News organizations are increasingly focused on subscriptions to help drive their business. Today we’d like to share more information on the tools we’ve built to help publishers build their subscription base.
Subscriptions in Instant Articles
We’ve been working with publishers across the US and Europe to test support for subscriptions models in Instant Articles with the goal of improving subscriber acquisition from Facebook. Transactions happen directly on the publishers’ websites, so publishers have full control over the relationship with their reader, including data, payments and pricing.
Results so far are promising: in May, people who saw Instant Articles from publishers in our test group were 17% more likely on average to subscribe to those publications directly from Facebook than people who saw standard web links. The test is providing positive results for the majority of publishers involved, and we’re focused on making improvements for those who have not yet seen a meaningful lift.
The Washington Post is one publisher testing the sale of subscriptions via Instant Articles and the early results are encouraging.
“As is the case for many publishers, subscriptions are a strategic priority for our business, so the ability to give readers a way to subscribe is very important,” said Beth Diaz, VP of Audience Development and Analytics at The Post. “We are pleased with the test’s performance so far and look forward to our continued collaboration with Facebook.”
Tribune Interactive has been leveraging Instant Articles and the new subscription offering on behalf of Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune since November.
“We at Tribune Interactive are very pleased with our participation in Facebook’s Instant Articles subscription test. It’s well-aligned with our continued drive for digital subscribers and innovative experiences. From our initial partnership with Facebook on the new paywall’s development, to the subscription uptick we’re seeing to date, this has been a successful venture. In fact, among readers visiting us from Facebook in the Baltimore test market, our subscription conversion rate increased more than 50% thanks to this initiative. We look forward to continuing to collaborate on the product’s evolution,” said Mark Campbell, SVP of Digital Marketing.
La Repubblica has been using Instant Articles to promote its new premium subscription offering, Rep, since November, when the new offering launched.
According to Massimo Russo, Managing Director of Digital at Gruppo Gedi, which operates La Repubblica, “in the alpha phase of the test we were able to improve the conversion rate of an Instant Article by 2x compared to a normal article in Facebook. This is just the beginning — the next goal is to identify the users’ propensity to subscribe within organic traffic from Facebook, and use that as a signal to significantly drive the growth of our subscriber base.”
Hearst Newspapers has been participating in the test with two of their publications — San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle.
“The Instant Articles alpha test has been a good start in providing Facebook readers the capability to engage and subscribe to local news that matters the most,” said Esfand Pourmand, SVP Revenue, Hearst Newspapers. “During the alpha period, both the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle saw similarly strong conversion results using Instant Articles when compared to other referral sources. We look forward to our ongoing collaboration with Facebook, with the goal of continuous improvement to the customer journey and building long lasting relationships with our readers on Facebook.”
Next Steps on Instant Articles Subscriptions
These early results are encouraging, and we continue to invest in news products to improve monetization for publishers. Based on the feedback from publishers, we’ve been testing several updates to the initial product, including:
- Tools that enable publishers to define when a reader sees a paywall (for example, number of articles per month; which articles are open vs locked). For publishers with metered models, we’ll support a flexible monthly meter with no restrictions, and we’ll add weekly and daily options over time.
- Support for time-based special offers (like a July 4th sale) on the Instant Articles paywall and pre-paywall upsells.
- A propensity model that predicts how likely someone is to become a subscriber to a certain publisher. We’re experimenting with ways to put that understanding to work, such as showing additional upsells to people who are likely to subscribe.
Expanding to Latin America
Over the next several weeks, we’ll begin working with an additional set of publishers to integrate their subscription models into Instant Articles, including O Globo in Brazil. We’ve seen previously that Instant Articles provide a bigger lift in referral traffic for publishers in Latin America, and we’re excited to learn whether we can improve the number of subscriptions acquired as well.
Investments in Subscriptions Beyond Instant Articles
Beyond this effort, we are exploring other ways we can help publishers grow their digital subscriptions businesses on and off Facebook.
For example, we’ve been testing a button on a publisher’s Facebook page that allows a publisher to promote their subscription offer. We hope to roll this capability out more broadly in the coming months.
We’re also working with publishers to better understand how Facebook Analytics can help publishers understand their cross-platform audiences and paths to conversion. Tools like Journeys help identify the interactions people have across multiple channels with publishers before they convert, while Segments help them learn more the people who subscribe. Learn more about Journeys here.
Finally, last week we wrapped our pilot of the Local News Subscriptions Accelerator, a 3-month program focused on helping metro newspapers in the United States take their digital subscription business to a new level. Participating publishers told us the accelerator was valuable, and we’re evaluating how best we can bring the momentum of the Accelerator to more publishers around the world.
We’re committed to helping to foster a sustainable news industry – from distribution to monetization through marketing, subscription tools, and better analytics. We’ll continue working across the industry to support the quality journalism our society relies on.