Blog post

Losing news readers? Technology can help

As print newspaper circulation falls to its lowest level in 70 years, many publishers have turned to digital and online readership, but with current trends showing digital subscriber fatigue and churn on the rise, it’s clear there’s still some way to go before this alternative can reach its full potential.

If publishers can figure out why their audience behaviours are changing and what their readers expect when engaging with their content, they can create a content strategy that engages these digital audiences and encourages them to return. This means taking an audience-centric approach; tailoring content based on who’s reading and where they spend their time online.

So how can publishers adopt an audience-centric approach, what kinds of technology can help in reaching this goal, and why is now the time to strive for these changes? Let’s dive in!

Why might a publisher be losing readers in the first place?

Generally, there are 3 main reasons why readers might churn:  

1) Content isn't relevant to the needs of the audience

Not personalising messaging and serving relevant content for readers, especially in newsletters, will create the impression that content is generic and likely irrelevant to them. Leading to the reader coming to the conclusion that they’re not receiving value, which will have a direct impact when they are evaluating which subscriptions to keep.

2) Content is relevant, but not published on the right channels

For example, different generational preferences have created very distinct audiences with preferences that can vary greatly from one another. Targeting Gen-Z in the same way you target GenX will not deliver the same outcomes.  First, understand your audience’s behaviours and interests. This will enable you to segment your audiences into groups and then create different strategies to target them on the relevant channels, and with related messaging.    

3) The wrong content or offering to the wrong audience

A paywall is being shown at the incorrect time or shows an irrelevant subscription offering, creating friction in the reader experience that translates into the reader churning.

How can publishers address these problems?

There are a number of different strategies and solutions that can be deployed for each of these churn reasons. Specifically, employing strategies that ensure readers see the right content and offers at the right time. This is where technologies focusing on personalisation and dynamic paywalls can help.

Let’s dive into some specific cases where personalisation helps to elevate subscriber experience:


As subscriptions become a key revenue stream for publishers, using paywalls effectively is a key component to building a predictable and sustainable revenue stream. When it comes to personalisation, first-party data collected from users can enhance a paywall offer by displaying relevant articles the subscriber will gain access to. It can also be used to calculate the best moment to show a paywall to each user based on their behaviour and propensity to subscribe.

Subscription experience platforms encourage a progressive approach to relationship building with readers: ensuring incremental value across the entire monetisation spectrum - advertising, affiliates, events etc. From there, publishers should look to develop an evidence-based understanding of the customer journey that underpins a successful subscriber strategy. Building on that enables publishers to increase organisational agility and leverage data to scale up subscriptions, increase sales and ramp up renewals over time.

Push notifications & newsletters

Push notifications have proven to be an effective strategy for publishers moving forward. As shown with Mediahuis, by identifying what a specific audience will find interesting, publishers can personalise their push notification recommendations, which can drastically reduce the churn rate of subscribers while also achieving a CTR up to 10 times higher when compared to generic push notifications.

In a similar vein, newsletters also bring readers back to a main website or app, and they allow readers to assess the value they receive from brands in return for their clicks. By personalising newsletters to show relevant article recommendations or content types in a similar way, publishers increase the likelihood a reader will click back to their website while also reinforcing the idea that this newsletter contains valuable content. The moment a reader feels as though the newsletters they receive are no longer impactful, the chances of them opening decreases dramatically.

Mediahuis was keen to test this on its own newsletters and was able to consistently outperform the baseline CTR compared with popular brands by at least 15%, and outperform the baseline CTR for regional brands by 19% by using personalisation.

On-site experiences (Web and Mobile)

Where personalisation truly elevates the user journey is with their on-site experiences as a whole. Usually, this involves collecting first-party data from users on a registration form, and then using known user interests to display a variety of relevant content topics, ads, and even personalised messaging (like a welcome-back message). Displaying content that is similar to the user's current behaviours or recently viewed articles keeps them engaged and on-site.

Taking this further, publishers might consider using cross-device tracking to ensure every opportunity is optimised, making sure user behaviours are tracked everywhere (from smartphone to laptop, to tablet) so that their preferences are accurately collected and the best content is put forward each time.

One of many examples we have seen is De Telegraaf, which saw a 23% uplift in click-through rate (CTR) on its home page after using personalised article recommendations compared to manually curated content hand-picked by an editorial team.

Why invest in tech now?

With so many changes in the way readers are consuming content, it’s more important than ever for publishers to invest in technology that will help publishers reach these readers. By personalising content and using data to understand reader behaviour, publishers can create a better experience for their readers that will keep them coming back. Additionally, with subscription revenue becoming more crucial, investing in subscriber experience technologies that help with subscriber journeys and conversion is key.

Publishers who don't invest and keep up to date with emerging technologies may find themselves losing out on potential subscribers and revenue down the line, or struggling to keep up with the competition in the years to come.

This blog post was written in collaboration with Zephr.

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