For two days in late April, 14 German-speaking publishing groups gathered in Berlin for the kickoff of the Facebook Reader Revenue Accelerator Program in Germany. This €2 million program will help the local publishers strengthen their subscriptions-based business models. (All but one of the publishers are from Germany. Vorarlberger Nachrichten is a German-language publisher based in Austria.)

The kickoff session included a variety of lessons on increasing subscriptions, including:

“If we can realize only 10 or 20% of what we learned, it will already be a major change in our organization,” said Matthias Oberth, head of online at Nürnberger Nachrichten (Nordbayern Infonet).

The program will include two more in-person sessions, weekly training sessions with industry experts, and support putting publisher ideas into practice with grant funding in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). It is led by project director Yasmin Namini, an independent digital media consultant and former chief consumer officer at The New York Times, with coaching from Lynne Brennen (formerly of The New York Times and Dow Jones) and Ray Pearce (formerly of The New York Times).

Participating publishers are from Hamburger Abendblatt (Funke Mediengruppe), Mediengruppe Straubinger Tagblatt/Landshuter Zeitung, Rheinische Post (RP Digital), Stuttgarter Zeitung (MHS Digital), Nürnberger Nachrichten (Nordbayern Infonet), Der neue Tag (Oberpfalz Medien), Augsburger Allgemeine (Mediengruppe Pressedruck), Verlag und Druckerei Main-Echo, DuMont Mediengruppe (Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, Berliner Zeitung), Frankfurter Rundschau (Ippen Digital), Mediengruppe Main-Post, Ruhr Nachrichten (Lensing Media), Mediengruppe Oberfranken (inFranken.de), and Vorarlberger Nachrichten (Russmedia).

“You’ve given us the keys to executing,” said Julian Frost, who lead product innovation and development at Augsburger Allgemeine (Mediengruppe Pressedruck). “We’re not only learning how to think about subscriptions. We’re picking something and starting to do it. We’re taking the small steps and getting started.”

Read on for more from the kickoff Accelerator session in Germany.

Facebook Accelerator Berlin

Evaluating Your Current Subscriptions Business With Scorecards

Participating publishers kicked off the in-person session by reviewing the 10 essential ingredients of building a subscriptions business. Each team used a scorecard to review the current state of their subscriptions business. Then, the group collectively discussed their results.

“A key learning here is that everyone has the same problem,” said Julia Grass, head of content development at Berliner Zeitung (Dumont). “I was surprised to see that other publications feel they’re in the same position and are going through the same challenges.”

In the exercise, publishers used the scorecard to rate their current ability of the below 10 subscriptions essentials on a scale of 0-3.

  1. Deliver value to readers
  2. Utilize a funnel approach to increasing subscribers
  3. Getting everyone within their organization on the subscriptions bus
  4. Getting the technology stack right
  5. Making decisions based on data
  6. Thinking and operating like an e-commerce company
  7. Continuously improving their digital user experience
  8. Treating their subscribers like the gold they are
  9. Maximizing return across their demand curve
  10. Truly listening and taking action

“I love this 10-point framework,” said Björn Friebe, product manager at Stuttgarter Zeitung (MHS Digital). “We can benchmark ourselves over time and share the results across the company.”

See more on the 10 essential ingredients here.

Facebook Accelerator Berlin

Getting Everyone on the Subscriptions Bus

When asked if organizational silos feel like a hurdle to making progress on their scorecards, more than half of people in the room raised their hands.

“How do you improve your scorecard? Get everyone on the bus,” said Yasmin Namini, the program’s director. “Just as we engage our readers more so they become subscribers, we also need to engage our teams — peers, bosses, teammates — so they’re committed to subscriptions.”

“We need that group of people to lead the subscriptions battle,” said Julian Halder, head of audience and marketing at Vorarlberger Nachrichten (Russmedia).

The sessions touched on tactical ways to get everyone on the bus, such as:

“A big challenge for us will be to get everybody on the bus and break down the silos,” said Sonja Thomaser, digital editor at Frankfurter Rundschau (Ippen Digital). “The left hand must know what the right hand does.”

See more on engaging the newsroom here.

Developing a Funnel Approach to Subscription Marketing

Increasing subscriptions is a multi-step process, otherwise known as a marketing funnel. The session overviewed the funnel’s 3 primary stages:

  1. Increasing awareness of your publication with off-site channels like search engine marketing and social media marketing
  2. Encouraging readers to consider subscribing with on-site channels like banners and buttons encouraging subscription, as well as content channels like newsletters
  3. Converting readers to subscribers with streamlined on-site experiences, an easy sign-up process, and incentives like subscription offers within articles

“I’ve learned that newsletter marketing plays such a big role in subscriber acquisition,” said Peter Schulze-Zachau, head of editorial digital at Nürnberger Nachrichten (Nordbayern Infonet). We have few newsletters in our publication and we’ll explore that.”

Using Data to Drive Decision Making

In her session on using data, Namini stressed that data and insights are key to making informed daily decisions. Building a “test and learn” culture helps your organization make data-driven decisions, she said.

“A key learning is having a data-driven newsroom, and a testing culture,” said Michael Bröcker, editor-in-chief at Rheinische Post (RP Digital). “I’ve realized that we can start with something simple to start testing.”

The session covered how to begin a testing program, reviewing tests’ impact, learning from the results, and moving forward accordingly.

“One of our most important to-dos we’ll have to implement will be starting a data-driven approach [to subscriptions],” said Frank Unkelbach, digital management at Main-Echo. “We made a priority list yesterday at dinner and we will present it to our organization.”



The Accelerator Program

The Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator Program helps news publishers build sustainable businesses. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), each Accelerator includes a three-month period of hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, grants administered by non-profit journalism organizations, and regular reports on best business practices. The Accelerator’s executive director is Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.

For monthly updates on the Accelerator Program, sign up for the FJP newsletter.