Over two days in late April, 14 German-speaking publishing groups gathered in Berlin for the kickoff of the Reader Revenue Accelerator in Germany. This 2 million Euro program will help local German-language publishers strengthen their subscriptions-based business models. (All but one of the publishers are from Germany. Vorarlberger Nachrichten, is a German-language publisher from Austria.)
The kickoff session included a variety of lessons on increasing subscriptions, including:
- Evaluating your publication’s current subscriptions business
- Getting the whole organization aligned around a common goal
- Developing a funnel approach to marketing subscriptions
- Using data to drive decision making
“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 lead 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, 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.
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.
- Deliver value to readers
- Utilize a funnel approach to increasing subscribers
- Getting everyone within their organization on the subscriptions bus
- Getting the technology stack right
- Making decisions based on data
- Thinking and operating like an e-commerce company
- Continuously improving their digital user experience
- Treating their subscribers like the gold they are
- Maximizing return across their demand curve
- 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.
Getting Everyone on the Subscriptions Bus
When asked if organizational silos feel like a hurdle to making progress on their scorecards, more than half the room raised their hand.
“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, like:
- Engaging the newsroom around content that drives subscriptions.
- Sharing scorecards, subscriptions metrics, and organizational progress widely
- Creating a physical space in the office where the team working on subscriptions can gather and display information
“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:
- Increasing awareness of your publication with off-site channels like search engine marketing and social media marketing.
- Encouraging readers to consider subscribing with on-site channels like banners and buttons encouraging subscription, as well as content channels like newsletters.
- 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 Programs are designed to help news publishers build their digital subscriptions revenues. Funded and organized by The Facebook Journalism Project, this 3-month program includes hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, a grantmaking program organized by the International Center for Journalists, and regular reports on best practices authored by both ICFJ and the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP). The Reader Revenue Accelerator is part of the broader Accelerator Program, whose programming and structure are overseen by Executive Director Tim Griggs. Previous iterations have focused on acquiring digital subscriptions and digital video.
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