What sort of premium features would entice you to pay for an online publication?
It’s a question digital publishers are grappling with, and one that they must find an answer to in 2019 if they wish to survive—and thrive—in the competitive media landscape.
The business model for digital journalism is changing, with more and more publications adopting a paid model. According to the American Press Institute, 78% of newspapers with circulations of at least 50,000 have “some form of paid model,” the most common of which is a metered model. With the metered model, readers can access a certain number of articles for free (usually five or 10 per month), after which they must subscribe for full access.
Even publications that are not for-profit are trying out this model. A number of non-profit news publishers have started membership programs, where readers join for access to content. Funding from memberships makes up the bulk of these publishers’ budgets, as they do not have programmatic advertising or display advertising revenue to fall back on.
Non-profit and for-profit publishers must make sure their membership and subscription programs are on point if they expect to drive enough volume to succeed. Research has found that the most engaged 5% to 10% of a publisher’s audience will convert into paying subscribers. For these readers, being cut off from access after five or 10 articles each month is enough to spur action and drive conversions. For many others, however, there needs to be something more.
In 2019, we expect to see a greater number of digital publishers offering premium features as part of their membership and subscription programs.
What Types of Premium Features Do Readers Want?
The No. 1 thing engaged news consumers want is original content. That’s right. Readers don’t need all the bells and whistles, videos, or social media campaigns. They want premium, original reporting. This reporting should inform, educate, benefit, and entertain the readers of a publication. When those marks are all being hit, publishers can expect to see a high level of subscription or membership renewals.
Of course, all content is not created equal. While most digital news websites traffic in written content, there is a great demand among readers for video content, as well. Video on-demand is one of the most requested premium features among online news readers. Some publishers are beginning to meet this demand by launching their own branded video on-demand services or exclusive video channels that are available only to paid subscribers.
One publisher that has found particular success using premium features to encourage readers to become paying members is Slate. Slate Magazine’s Slate Plus membership costs $35 for the first year, and comes with premium features like ad-free versions of the publisher’s podcasts, extended versions of the publisher’s podcasts, access to a library of Slate Academies, early access and ticket discounts to Slate events, and access to a private Facebook group where fellow Slate fans can talk about the publication and the news of the day.
One thing you might notice is that most of Slate’s premium features are free for the publisher. For example, creating a private Facebook group for members of Slate Plus is free, and so is offering ad-free versions of the publisher’s existing podcasts. Bonus content, like extended interviews or behind-the-scenes clips from videos, provide extra value for readers without costing the publication much financially, as well.
This is a valuable lesson for publishers. Premium features don’t have to cost a fortune to be valuable to members. Most of Slate Plus’ premium features are designed to save members time or to enrich their lives in some way. For example, getting through podcasts without ads saves listeners time, and having access to a library of Slate Academies is enriching for readers.
Slate got some help determining which premium features to offer members of its Slate Plus program. The company surveyed its members to find out what they wanted and what sort of categories of content they would be most willing to support.
Publishers who take the time to survey their readers in this same way can be sure that the premium features they are offering are actually valuable, upping the chances of success with their new membership programs.
Have you thought about offering premium features to your site’s members? We’d love to hear more about which features and benefits are driving conversions for your publication.