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Why Publishers Should Think More Like Advertisers

By Dan Willstrand Nov 01, 2018

Reading 2 min

If you google what brands can learn from publishers, you will find a myriad of articles, listing tricks from the media industry that will make your content marketing successful. And rightfully so; there are many things journalists can teach brands about engaging storytelling.


But you will find very few articles about what publishers can learn from brands, which is surprising, especially since the top priority among publishers today is to convert visitors into paying customers, a skill that many advertisers have come to master.

I am not going to take you through the various steps of conversion strategies here – we already did that in this funneling guide for paid subscriptions – instead I want to highlight the risks of having a too rigid paywall strategy.


In the last 18 months news publishers around the globe have seen an impressive growth in number of paying online subscribers. But that is not unexpected, since many of them had zero digital subscribers a few years ago. The problem is that there are signs that the growth curve has already flattened out, and that there’s an uncomfortably high churn.

The German newspaper Die Welt found that 50% of its new subscribers left in the first three months, according to a report by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, released 22 Aug 2018.

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News media putting all their content behind paywalls may convince hard core fans to become subscribers, but attracting new audiences will be much harder if there’s no chance to interact with the product.

Considering that the average local newspaper subscriber typically is more than 60 years old, publishers must continuously work at attracting new and younger readers in order to maintain a long-term sustainable business. And these younger readers have grown up with freemium models for almost everything they do online.

Just look at the music industry. It’s an interesting example since newspapers are selling a product that pretty much resembles the Compact Disc – an arbitrary collection of songs, of which the consumer might like 30%. Not only did Spotify disrupt the consumption pattern by giving users access to individual songs, but they also successfully managed to convert freemium users to subscribers by offering clear added-value (no intrusive ads).


Publishers should continue using their great content to drive new potential subscribers to their websites. By sharing relevant articles in social media and through media networks they can build a funnel, deploy conversion activities and focus on customer retention, just like any other digital business.

The media industry may have made a mistake by giving all content away for free, but hopefully they will not correct that mistake by locking all their prospects out. 

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