In late 2019, 11 regional publishers participated in the France Subscription Accelerator: an intensive three-month program that brings news organizations together to collaborate, test and scale shared learnings, and develop strategies to build sustainability in the world of news and storytelling.
After their training, they began a nine-month grant initiative, funded by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). From March 2020 to early fall, they implemented lessons and learned valuable strategies for developing a sustainable business model.
Despite the ongoing pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic, this group of publishers generated:
- More than 25,000 new paying subscribers
- Over 300,000 new newsletter subscribers
- Roughly €8.5 million in customer lifetime value (CLV)
“These publishers have demonstrated what’s possible with some smart investments, a commitment to innovate, and a lot of hard work — even in a pandemic,” said Johanna Carrillo, vice president of programs at ICFJ. “As we work to help journalism thrive, there are great lessons here for newsrooms and those who support them.”
“When viewed in that context,” said Ray Pearce, a coach in the program, “the results achieved by these teams are beyond outstanding.”
This group of publishers showed remarkable resolve and creativity. They pushed forward, pursuing digital transformation amid unprecedented stress on newsrooms and advertising-driven businesses everywhere.
“It was so impressive to see these teams keep their heads down during a challenging time, introducing new experiences to their users and new ideas to their organizations,” said Eric Hellweg, a coach in the program.
Pivot to your readers’ needs.
Focus on your loyal readers and help them solve problems. This is the cornerstone of Centre France’s work. During municipal elections in March, Group Centre France’s Facebook chatbot Bonjour Marianne
helped thousands of readers get critical information from the group’s network of papers. But when COVID-19 hit with force, Marianne took on a whole new role, answering questions and distributing vitally important information about the pandemic. Now, more than 24,000 people regularly use the chatbot to get information, according to the publisher. You can read the full case study here
The publisher also launched several newsletters based on major audience needs (like journalism about elections and COVID-19), seeing a surge in their readership base:
- 25,000 newsletter subscribers, 70% consuming more than 15 articles per month
- 15,000 digital subscribers following the launch of their new digital subscription program
Listen to your readers. Allowing readers to help shape their promotions and products has paid huge dividends for Sud Ouest. By leveraging user interviews and survey feedback, and following user behavior through video and other methods, they rebuilt an online “kiosk” and simplified call-to-action requests throughout the site.
Sud Ouest digital subscriptions kiosk
Here, readers can self-select the products — free newsletters, ePaper, weekend magazine, archives and more — that work best for them, in a more conversational experience.
These improvements led to:
- Higher conversion rates site-wide
- 100,000 new newsletter subscribers in a five-month period
- 5-10% conversion of newsletter subscribers to paying readers within several months
“The Facebook accelerator helped us deploy a quick and efficient work method serving our business goals,” said Christophe Galichon, Sud Ouest’s chief operating officer. “In a few months, several projects came to life, helping us monetize our audiences with great results.”
Optimize the subscription process. The team focused on testing the user experience of the subscription process to create a stronger checkout performance. Sudpresse streamlined its subscription process from four steps to two, and cut its payment flow down to a single, simple page. By reducing complexity for users and simplifying the process, they ultimately boosted conversion rates.
Sudpresse subscriptions process simplified, from 4 to 2 steps Sudpresse payment flow streamlined to one step
The team then built a trio of new subscription proposals focused on offers for first-time, younger subscribers at a lower price point, family plans and enterprise accounts. Once these introductory offers went live, they began testing the promotions and following their impact on subscriber churn. The experiment worked: Sudpresse discovered that by initially offering less aggressive promotions, their acquisition rates stabilized but churn improved significantly.
By putting these adjustments into place during a time of surging support for the Belgian publisher, Sudpresse's results skyrocketed, too:
- 7,000 new digital subscribers
- 50% increase in digital revenue
- 25% lower churn rate
The team at La Voix du Nord showed similar initiative, changing their tactics in an effort to boost subscribers from their pay gate. By tweaking when and where they lock articles to non-subscribers, they increased this strategy’s contribution to their new digital subscriptions from 25 percent to 75 percent of their monthly totals, even as overall subscription volume grew.
La Voix du Nord paywall conversion rate
“The first visible result [of the team’s participation in the Accelerator] was without a doubt the sharp increase in paywall conversions,” said Gaël Meunier, user experience and data analysis manager. “But most importantly, by cutting us out of our routine, the Facebook Accelerator event taught us to work better together, on this project and for all our future projects. ”
“Results from this cohort demonstrate the tremendous power of testing and experimentation,” said Tim Griggs, an independent consultant and the Accelerator’s executive director. “Even amid great disruption, these teams had the agility and discipline to improve user experience and deliver real and enduring value for readers. And in doing so, of course, improved digital subscription gains pretty dramatically.”
With the lessons they’ve learned from the Subscription Accelerator, these 11 publishers are pursuing a sustainable business model for their local news organizations. In doing so, they’re inspiring other newsrooms around the world to do the same.
*All results provided by the participating publishers.
The Accelerator Program
The Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator Program helps news publishers build sustainable businesses. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), each Accelerator includes a three-month period of hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, grants administered by non-profit journalism organizations, and regular reports on best business practices. The Accelerator’s executive director is Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.
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