The number of new people signing up to subscribe to The Telegraph on any given day has grown 300 percent since the newspaper put 20 percent of its content behind a hard paywall last November.
The national newspaper, which dropped its 3-year-old metered access model in favor of its new tiered model, has also grown the number of logged-in visitors 400 percent in the same time period (albeit from a relatively low base line.) The Telegraph gets 20 million monthly visitors, according to comScore.
Part of that success has been due to getting editorial buy-in on the subscriptions strategy, in a way that wasn’t previously present at the publisher. “Getting editorial buy-in sounds easy but subscriptions were often running in a very separate way to the editorial teams before last November,” said Robert Bridge, The Telegraph’s chief customer officer.
Today, The Telegraph’s editors get full ownership of what content is commissioned for Premium and what is made available for open access. And they make those calls on a daily basis, and often use audience data to decide.“They make those decisions on the fly based on what news is happening, and the data feedback loop is so important for that,” said Bridge.
That data will ultimately culminate in a better understanding of which articles have been driving registrations. “We’re learning what content drives someone to register and log in, and what drives them to pay, and that’s how we’re driving our editorial strategy,” he added.
Some of that content, fairly predictably, is around major news moments. The Telegraph and others — like the Financial Times around Brexit, The Times, and The New York Times around Trump — have seen spikes in registrations during these events. In the two weeks after it dropped its metered paywall, the number of daily paid subscriptions jumped 600 percent compared to the previous month, over the usual average of 300 percent.
The Telegraph has also beefed up its marketing team to capitalize on promoting subscriptions at the right moments and has hired its first performance marketing director Marc Waxman, who joined from Rakuten marketing. He is one of Bridge’s seven direct reports.
Typically, direct visitors to a publisher’s site are the most engaged, loyal readers, as opposed to the one-hit wonders that come in via social platforms like Facebook. That means The Telegraph runs a relatively high ratio of premium content on its homepage. Most days, roughly 30 percent of the content on the homepage is premium subscriptions content, sometimes more. That’s about dozen articles. “The users that are more likely to transact are those that are coming to the home page, hence why we have 30 percent of content on there,” added Bridge.
Naturally, it is the most differentiated editorial that falls into the 20 percent tier of paid-for content. Opinion pieces, news analysis and exclusive interviews are standard Premium fare. A recent example was an interview with France’s National Front party leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen: “France’s Marine Le Pen explains how she aims to smash the European order.” Another was: “Denzel Washington interview: ‘My closest friends did 50 years in prison.’”
A Brexit-related Premium article, relating to the much-discussed Article 50 Treaty of Lisbon, which contain the rules for any member of the European Union wishing to exit, was another. “We dedicated more of the homepage to Premium that day and saw a significant uptick in subscriptions as a direct result,” said Bridge.
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The newspaper has also tried some bundling to drive its Premium subscriptions, such giving £50 ($62) vouchers. It has also made an agreement with the Washington Post so that any new subscriber will gain a year’s free access to the Post’s digital editions.
For any publisher building direct reader connections, the metered-access approach isn’t the answer, and The Telegraph was right to drop it, according to Douglas McCabe, CEO of media analysis firm Enders. “It encourages exactly the wrong behavior and strangles conversion,” he said.
McCabe added that although The Telegraph’s subscriptions numbers are likely still relatively small, their rapid growth is encouraging for the model and “an important milestone” in how the news brand positions itself, both internally and with its journalists, readers and advertisers. “Publishers need to get away from celebrating big numbers and really focus,” he added.