This week Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, tells us where newspapers are going wrong in their subscription marketing. We also discuss why there’s no easy solution to the need for internal change in newsrooms, why Nordic countries outperform when it comes to the membership mentality, and why we should look to Coca-Cola for advice.

In the news roundup we take a tour through all the subscription-focused news of the past week, ask whether we should join Clubhouse, and examine the rise of bookazines. Chris and Peter sing kids’ TV themes.

The full transcript is live here, or some highlights are below:

Value dissonance in subscription marketing

We can easily think of journalism and news media as offering more than the sort of basic utilitarian value of the information that’s being provided, and also help people see the world in a different way, experience the world in different ways, feel a sense of belonging to a community of other people like them, or unlike them, for that matter, who have something in common.

But I think it’s fair to say that in a lot of the marketing that we see, when news organisations who are turning to reader revenues are trying to sell subscriptions, that light is very focused on us, and not very focused on the public that we aim and claim to serve. And they are the ones who have to convince; you don’t need to convince me or journalists that what we do is important, or that we want more people to engage with it and even pay for it. You need to convince the people who aren’t doing it.

Successes outside the English language

The poster child of the first category of stories, news organisations with a long history that are really right now on a roll in terms of building digital subscription basis is Dagens Nyheter in Sweden, where a really clear focus on doing journalism in news reporting and analysis and opinion that is worth paying for.

And then very, very rigorously researching and understanding that value proposition and whether people in fact recognise it, see it, experience it, constantly tweaking. ‘Where do we put our efforts editorially, where do we invest? How can we improve the product side of the user experience side on the tech side of this, to make it as frictionless as possible for people to really engage with this journalism and make and have the best possible experience with it?’

On internal change in newsrooms

Let’s be clear, this stuff is hard. A lot of the changes that might lead to better business outcomes in the long run are very, very painful in the short run for the organisation. They can be quite difficult to sell to owners and investors who may be focused on the next quarters are sold and not the results in five years time, 10 years time.

And it’s only human. If there are some senior editors and executives, who might think in the heart of hearts, “Maybe it’ll last my time out. Yeah, maybe I can sort of get away with sort of business as usual. Trim the costs on the legacy print product and sort of business as usual digital wave my hands talk about AI and blockchain and TikTok from time to time. And then someone else has got to figure it out.”

News roundup

53% of digital publishers witnessed positive revenue growth in Q3 2020, boosted by a significant rise in subscription revenue

The Q3 2020 Digital Publishers Revenue Index shows shift to subscription revenue amongst UK publishers has gained serious momentum.

NYT is the subscription power player:

Other titles are also making a big move into subscription revenue:

News in brief


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  1. […] between what journalists and editors value versus what audiences consider worth paying for. I recently spoke to Ramus Kleis Nielsen, the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, about that dissonance. He […]

  2. […] between what journalists and editors value versus what audiences consider worth paying for. I recently spoke to Ramus Kleis Nielsen, the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, about that dissonance. He […]

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