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#35. How The WSJ develops long term relationships with young readers

You're reading The Audiencers'  #35, sent out on April 3rd, 2023.  To receive future newsletters straight to your inbox every two weeks, sign up here.

The Rolling Stones one day. The Audiencers the next.

2 North American Festivals done and dusted, and after a stop-over in Montreal, I'm now back on European soil to finally take in all that's happened over the past few weeks.

Toronto's Festival in particular was something special. In the El Mocambo music venue, where legends such as Billy Idol and Duran Duran have performed, over 100 publishing professionals brought an incredible amount of energy to match the setting.

Shelby Blackley of The Athletic & WTF is ? took “strong stage presence” to the next level. Marc Gendron's (Les Coops d'Info) energy and enthusiasm was infectious. And Dustin Titus of Zoomer Media made even “page views” sound cool. 

As usual, articles and video coming soon. In the meantime, our New York Festival video is out! And if this doesn't make you want to join a future event, idk what will…

In today's newsletter: 

  • French continue to grow their digital subscriber base, with Le Monde racing ahead
  • How to develop long term relationships with : 
  • Lessons from non-publisher subscriptions: Gym Membership
  • Content to add to your reading list

French publishers continue to grow their digital subscriber base, with Le Monde racing ahead

Le Monde has an impressive penetration rate of 1.9% in the French market – relative to population, this is far higher than the market penetration rate achieved even by The New York Times (0.8% of U.S. households)

Image source: mind Media

Having worked closely with French publishers over the last 3 years, there's a few marking features that (I believe) are contributing to this success…

> The vast majority employ freemium models which ensure readers are only blocked on the highest quality content that shows the publisher's value

Ease of cancellation – it might seem contradictory, but many have seen retention rates increase since making it simpler for subscribers to cancel. In France, regulations now make it obligatory for cancellation to be possible online and in 3 clicks or less

The rise of soft steps (e.g. & newsletter walls) – there's been talk recently of the fastest growing publishers employing a cyclone tactic, whereby a reader is encouraged to subscribe as early as possible and then focus is on retention (ironically these publishers are also facing high rates…). But we're seeing increasingly more proof in the value of registering readers for high LTV (i.e. it takes longer before they subscribe but the value in the long term is greater)

NB L'Équipe's sudden fall here was due to ending the Canal partnership, resulting in a loss of 200,000 subscribers

The Wall Street Journal: How to develop long term relationships with young audiences

Julia Munslow, Senior Platform Editor at The Wall Street Journal, spoke on stage at The Audiencers' Festival New York about how she works on developing long term relationships with young audiences through TikTok. 

The foundations of The Wall Street Journal's TikTok strategy:

  • A dedicated core team – including TikTok specialists and social media experts who do the majority of production work
  • Collaborating with the newsroom – journalists are made aware of the social work that Julia's team are doing, the places where they can step in and how to do this effectively (scripting, filming, hosting, fact checking, etc.).
  • Smart curation – carefully select and curate content for this specific audience, understanding that they're not the same as traditional Journal readers (Julia recommends reading the Next Gen Report which revealed younger readers are seeking softer, less harsh news that's accessible, helps them feel connected and doesn't require much effort)
  • An intentional tone – it's not an easy job to engage these readers. Publishers are fighting for attention against not only other news sources but also influencers, celebrities and a user's friends on these platforms. But understanding these audiences' behavior, how they want to consume news whilst also taking lessons from “everyday people” Julia shared how they balance straightforward delivery with humorous skits

Some of the keys to their success

  • Short video – young readers want to be told the key information in a short period of time, in an accessible and efficient way, to be able to learn something then scroll and get on with their day
  • Newsroom evangelization – whenever you have a new platform, with new audiences, you have to let teams know what you're doing, even simply via coffee chats, to get the word out and pick their brains and resources. This will pay off in the long term
  • Planning – for any stories that you can plan ahead of the release. “Get ready for the moment of publication and make use of resources from across the newsroom”
  • Search optimization – keywords, trending hashtags, and optimizing these over time. It's thanks to this that some of their video performance has continued to grow over time, especially as younger audiences are turning to TikTok as a form of search engine
  • Engaging in the comment section – young readers engage through conversation, so this continued interaction is important for trust and relationship building, which is an audience expectation on these platforms. This is why it's valuable to have an expert in different platforms on your team, to understand the norms of each platform.

Find more best practices with case studies from The Wall Street Journal on The Audiencers

Lessons from non-publisher subscriptions: Gym Membership

The Urban Sports Club offers a flexible sports subscription that lets members exercise at more than 10,000 partners across European cities. Torsten Müller, Senior Vice President Marketing & Communications at Urban Sports Club shares his tips to inspire publisher's subscription models.

> Flexibility increases the appeal of the subscription: When Urban Sports Club launched, most customers were frustrated by expensive and restraining gym contracts. With the promise of being able to cancel or pause each month, or switch to a smaller or larger package, USC was able to win over many of these customers. Torsten Müller is convinced that this makes it easier for them to attract new members, and even if someone thinks about canceling, a downgrade or pause is suggested first so as not to lose the customer relationship.

> No freemium or free trial: New members usually get a discount in the first few months, but Torsten Müller advises against overly aggressive price promotions. If you attract users who wouldn't be willing to pay the normal price, you won't be able to keep them. Instead, he recommends more self-confidence: If you show your users what the product can do and what added value it offers, you don't have to advertise discounts.

> The customer lifecycle doesn't end with cancellation: They're particularly proud of the fact that many users return to the Club after cancellation. This is in part thanks to knowing why a user has cancelled, which can inform win-back strategies. Torsten Müller recommends, however, not to start too early with recovery measures and to instead give the users a break after cancellation.

> Understand user intent: Urban Sports Club places a high value on good , and understanding the user's intent for using the product allows the Club to make recommendations that are as personal as possible. In addition to the sports that a user has actively selected, recommendations are also made based on other members – for example, USC knows from data that people who like bouldering often also like yoga for relaxation. These combinations help point out the diversity of offerings without becoming arbitrary.

7 more lessons from 7 different subscription businesses on The Audiencers (by Lennart Schneider)

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