Is that all there is to reader revenue? » Nieman Journalism Lab

It’s an age of ready-to-binge whodunits, exported from the Nordic cold onto our heat-seeking laptops and living room screens. So will anyone take up this mystery: Who killed the news subscriber?

As print subscriptions have plummeted, digital subscriptions have slowly emerged. It’s really a six-year-old phenomenon, as daily publishers followed The New York Times’ 2011 lead with paywalls, and digital subscriptions are still, at best, a work in progress.

Today, they offer a tale of two worlds. The national/globals — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times — build their new and increasingly digital businesses on digital subscriptions, greatly aided this year by the Trump bump. But regional dailies, both in North America and in Europe, continue to struggle with them.

One ratio highlights the gap. While The New York Times today has twice as many digital-only subscribers as Sunday print subscribers (and three times as many as daily print), most newspapers’ subscriber totals still tilt heavily to slowly dying print. In fact, 90-plus percent of all subscriptions to regional dailies remain to print products, less than 10 percent to digital.

That disparity explains the economic divide we see between the still-transforming-but-smiling national-global press and the local newspapers worrying about their very existence after absorbing double-digit decline after decline in revenue. Reader revenue is working to transform the big press, but largely leaving the local press behind.

All publishers see the similar math. At most, 1 or 2 percent of those mammoth monthly-unique audience numbers they report will actually pay for a digital subscription. (Yes, the actual number of humans is probably a little more than twice as high, in the 3 to 4 percent range, since so many readers use two or more devices — desktop and mobile, for instance — to access news sites. For consistency, though, we’ll go with those numbers of…

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