Topic Hunters are highly interested in one or two certain subjects—such as local politics or local college or high school sports—and this interest was a major motivation for them to subscribe.

They look around for the best news available on these topics. They tend to be well educated (three-quarters have a college degree) and are more digital than average. They are also more likely than others to find content by searching online for news about these topics.

As they become engaged with coverage of a topic, they are more likely to follow individual journalists who cover this topic on social media.

They often convert to subscribing by becoming so engaged that they hit a paywall meter limit, and they are more likely than others to have encountered an article that impresses them so much they decide to subscribe. After subscribing, they are highly likely to share those stories on social media.

When asked to say in their own words why they subscribed, Topic Hunters give reasons such as the “best place for coverage of Nebraska legislature” or “to get the best coverage of the Seahawks.”

Topic Hunters include 23 percent of total respondents.

“I really liked their election coverage,” says a Topic Hunter. “They went the extra mile to interview a very high percentage of the candidates, which greatly helped me to decide who to vote for.”

Publisher strategies for Topic Hunters

There are several ways to engage with these readers based on their intense interest in specific topics, their background factors, and the triggers that lead them to subscribe.

First, Topic Hunters regularly find this content through search and follow the journalists who cover these topics. And since they tend to be more digital than other subscribers and to hit the metered paywall, the best time to convert these readers to paying subscribers is while they are online. This requires publishers to have sufficient analytics to track readers by topic. This can be done by more sophisticated systems such as API’s Metrics for News.

Publishers are seeing a lift in online conversions by focusing their efforts around certain topics of interest such as politics or sports. Online readers who frequently consume a particular topic of content can be shown very specific messaging in the calls-to-action within the article or through ads or emails.

The Dallas Morning News offers one example: Knowing that the engagement on high school sports stories was high, the paper set a four-day meter (as opposed to an article-counting meter) for that content, and the user is stopped after visiting four different days. On a user’s first visit to a high school sports page, they received a message asking them to provide their email address to keep them updated with new content. The News gathered more than 10,000 email addresses in less than a month and then quickly spun up a high school football newsletter called “The Fifth Down.” The newsletter has a 27 percent click-through rate, and high school coverage generated more subscriptions in a three-month period in the fall than the rest of the site combined.

In another example, The Houston Chronicle tried something uniquely local—a “BBQ Nation” newsletter and a podcast called “BBQ State of Mind.

The New York Times offers newsletters and alerts tailored to subjects such as recipes and running, for example. These newsletters are an effective way to engage readers around their interest areas and can lead to paid subscriptions.

Philadelphia-based digital startup “Billy Penn” lets readers sign up for news around Philly’s soda tax or Philly beer, which may find readers particularly motivated to follow certain news and allow useful data for later subscription or events appeals.

Journalists can also exhibit their subject expertise using social media to engage readers and build a following among those interested in their beats.

And publishers can hold events related to certain topics that potential subscribers engage with. The Business Journals (in cities around the country) sponsor regular “After Hours” events described as a way to meet a particular reporter covering a significant topic in the community. The events are free but usually sponsored by a local business.

Up close: Who are the Topic Hunters?

When asked in their own words what led them to subscribe, Topic Hunters most frequently mention local news and a topical focus.

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When thinking about what was important to their decision to describe, Topic Hunters most often cite topic/issue coverage (88 percent). They also commonly cite access to local news, seeing a number of useful articles, and supporting local journalism as important to them. Topic Hunters are at least 20 percentage points more likely than other subscribers to say each of these reasons were key factors.

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The most popular trigger for Topic Hunters to finally subscribe is seeing a discount or promotional offer, though less than other subscribers. They are particularly likely compared to other subscribers to cite hitting an article limit and having just read an interesting and useful article.

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Topic Hunters are not very different from other subscribers in what topics they follow, but they distinguish themselves in how interested and engaged they are with content. Topic Hunters also largely follow hard news topics, but some are sports fans, seeking out coverage on collegiate and high school sports.

The most frequently followed topics by Topic Hunters are local politics (53 percent), national politics (33 percent), college or high school sports (26 percent), and business and the economy (21 percent).

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Topic Hunters are engaged with and promote their publication, with a majority saying they share its content (55 percent) and many who save print copies (47 percent) and visit the paper’s website (46 percent). They are more likely than other subscribers to do each of these things.

However, Topic Hunters are focused on the news itself with little use for the extras; they are less likely than other subscribers, for instance, to use coupons (43 percent vs. 55 percent).

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While Topic Hunters rely on the publication they’ve subscribed to because it is good at covering a topic, they also value that it helps them get reliable/accurate information (93 percent), deals fairly with all sides (84 percent), and helps them stay an informed citizen (84 percent). Topic Hunters also tend to cite more reasons they use their newspaper than other subscribers.

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Topic Hunters’ favorite benefits of their subscription are feeling good about supporting the organization, having access to print as well as digital content, and getting news only available to paying customers.

Topic Hunters cite satisfaction from supporting journalism as a perk much more frequently than other subscribers (57 percent vs. 36 percent).

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