Publishers use subscriber-only events to sweeten subscription pitches

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As some publishers refrain from returning to in-person events just yet, they are employing their virtual events to aid another direct revenue source: subscriptions.

The Washington Post launched its first event series exclusively for print and digital subscribers on Jan. 18. The Information is also adding to its subscriber-only events this month, with programming created for those that purchase corporate subscriptions. These events will be virtual for the foreseeable future. Events that provide subscribers with access to big-name guests, journalists and an opportunity to connect with one another can provide more value to paying readers, executives at both companies said. 

Subscriber-only events are a “great opportunity to provide value to our current subscribers, a growth opportunity to attract new subscribers, and then a very small percentage of attendees paid to come,” said Ann Marinovich, vp of brand partnerships at The Information. She did not provide exact figures of how many paid to attend.

The Information has 225,000 active users, Marinovich said. She declined to share its total number of subscribers. (Jessica Lessin, founder and editor-in-chief of The Information, told Digiday last year the number is in the “tens of thousands.”) The Washington Post has roughly 3 million subscribers, according to The Wall Street Journal, and that base is reportedly plateauing due to a decline in interest among readers in political news stories. Both publishers have invested more resources into areas beyond their core coverage areas: The Information launched a vertical on the creator economy last year, while The Post has created editorial initiatives to attract young readers, like “Next Generation,” which launched last August.

Creating “special” programming for Post subscribers

The Washington Post’s new series will feature interviews with key figures in the news, conversations with authors and discussions with the journalists working on The Post’s biggest projects. The Post will host a minimum of one virtual event per month for its subscribers. “We are likely to increase that given the excitement we’ve already seen for this feature,” said Kris Coratti Kelly, chief communications officer at The Washington Post and gm of Washington Post Live.

Subscribers will be able to submit questions to those featured in the events. For author events, the first 200 registrants will get a free copy of the author’s book. Video will also be available to subscribers after the program. Unlike events freely accessible by non-subscribers, this event series has an expanded Q&A section from a few questions to more than 15 minutes to give additional time to readers’ questions. Those questions are submitted in advance for now, but eventually, The Post will make that feature “a more real-time interaction to create a deeper connection with the audience,” Kelly said.

The first installment of the series featured former Post reporter and investigative journalist Carl Bernstein and The Post’s national investigative reporter Carol Leonnig. The event had over 21,000 registrations.

Last year, Washington Post Live produced more than 430 event programs, all of which were virtual. In 2021, The Post doubled the number of programs and events produced and sponsorship revenue coming in year-over-year. The Post declined to share revenue numbers. “Given the enormous growth and popularity of the platform, 2022 seemed like the right time to carve out something special for subscribers,” Kelly said.

Subscriber-exclusive events can serve as a “strong” retention or acquisition tool, according to Melissa Chowning, founder and CEO at audience development agency Twenty-First Digital. “I think the most compelling component about a strategy like this is the exclusivity feel behind these events.” The data publishers can gather from their audiences, such as their interest (or lack of interest) in certain topics or events, can also “help media organizations understand their audience better,” she said.

The Information gives more access to its journalists

Starting this month, the business and tech site will begin hosting quarterly events exclusively for those who buy a corporate subscription package, also called a group subscription. Corporate subscriptions start at $349 per subscriber (for a minimum of 10 subscribers). These events will provide companies who are “giving a larger commitment to The Information” with more access to their journalists, Marinovich said. 

The first event, which will be held on Jan. 25, is called “2022 Tech Outlook: What’s Next?” It will bring together reporters at The Information who cover topics like the metaverse, fintech and platforms to share their predictions on the next big trends and companies to watch, Marinovich said. These events will be “less focused on external big industry speakers” and more on “insight from our editorial,” she added.

About three-quarters of the events The Information hosts are exclusively for subscribers. The other 25% are roughly split between those that require a purchased ticket to attend and those that offer access for free, according to Marinovich. The Information held about 30 events last year. Sponsorship revenue for events in 2021 “was 3x that of 2020,” Marinovich said, but declined to share exact figures.

Subscriber-exclusive events can also build community within a publisher’s subscriber base or around their brand, Chowning said. “Users often want to connect with other like-minded users, even if it is in the form of a virtual event. There’s a sense of community that is being established here as well,” she said.

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