How subscription publishers are trying to make paying for content a habit for young people

Subscription publishers are targeting people between 18 and 24 years old, adapting content, tone, marketing and accessibility of their products to that audience to foster the habit of subscribing.

Before The Telegraph launched its premium product in 2016, when it put 20 percent of its content behind a paywall, it targeted an audience over 35. Now, the publisher said the fastest-growing subscriber segment is between 18 and 34 years old. This is partly due to its app, which was redesigned when the paywall launched with a younger audience in mind, according to Robert Bridge, chief customer officer at The Telegraph. According to Bridge, the app drives the highest conversion rate of readers to subscribers.

“Media companies are concerned about their age profile across print and digital. The fear is young people aren’t going to grow into the tradition of subscribing,” said Nic Newman, editor of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report. “There’s a huge battle at the quality end of the market and an intense push for the same people. Everyone is aware of how important that [18-24-year-old] group of the next leaders is. The difficulty is the intense competition in the market and the price points.”

While a common misconception in the industry that people in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket won’t pay for content, particularly news, data from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report from October found that the proportion of people willing to pay across age groups is flat. Although paying for online news is still rare, 3 percent of people in the U.K. paid for news in the last year, and 54 percent say the reason for not paying for news is because they can get it for free elsewhere, according to Reuters.

The Economist has been more strategic in running campaigns targeted at students for the last two years. During September 2017, it ran a content-led marketing campaign featuring articles about the future of work as well as events at universities. Visitors to the future of work content hub are targeted with ads about the publisher’s subscription offer, featuring consistent creative, design and copy — such as “Some trends need more than a hashtag” — targeted to that demographic.

In January, the Financial Times expanded its free-access-to-schools initiative internationally, believing students are likely to be interested in FT content if it’s relevant to what they’re learning at school. In the U.K., where the initiative launched in June 2017 with Lloyds Bank as a sponsor, over 16,000 students and teachers from over 1,500 schools have unlimited access to Schools in over 70 countries have also signed up. This type of sampling — access to the brand during school — should increase chances that people will subscribe when they leave, but less than a year into the program, the publisher said it was too early to glean any evidence.

The difficulty for media owners targeting the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket is bridging the price gap between content that can be accessed for free online and a typical monthly subscription rate of £26 ($36.55), while this demographic is used to paying half as much for other content subscriptions like Netflix or Spotify, said Newman.

While publishers have experimented with products that fit somewhere in between these price points, like New York Times NYT Now app, few have survived, said Newman, mostly because they end up cannibalizing the core news product, which needs to be kept at a sufficiently high price point.

Equally, it’s hard to police giving away a cheaper product to someone who is 24, for example, whereas letting students sign up to the product with a specific email address while they’re studying, similar to the FT’s model, is easier.

All publishers adapt news content to make it accessible to younger audiences on social platforms, and subscription publishers have long used social media to build up awareness without an immediate expectation that audiences will subscribe. Over the last three months on Snapchat, The Telegraph has reached an average of 4.9 million users a month through content created by the same team working on its app, said Bridge.

“When you consider that 33 percent of this [Snapchat] audience is aged between 18 and 24 and 31 percent under 17, we are talking about significant impact,” he said. “Snapchat is a brand play over an acquisition play. Our strategy is long-term: encouraging users, when ready, into the next best product — in this case, the app.”

More in Media

Immediate deepens CMP strategy, slashes ad tech partnerships for sharper data governance

Consent management platforms at Immediate aren’t just about ticking boxes for data laws.

Teads’ M&A rumors are firming up with a deal to merge with Outbrain

The latest installment of ad tech M&A activity is leaving some industry folks surprised.