As the future of the news focuses more on reader revenue as its economic model, retention of subscribers and members is becoming more critical. It is one thing to get users to subscribe, particularly with discounted introductory offers. It becomes essential to keep those consumers. To continue growing net revenue, publishers need help to evaluate what they are currently doing and where there are opportunities to improve retention and decrease churn.

To advance this cause, the American Press Institute surveyed news publishers across the United States about what they were doing, what was helping maintain customer loyalty and what was not — and what they need to know more about. We also partnered with publishing associations, including the News Media Alliance, Institute for Nonprofit News, and LION Publishers, to reach their members.

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We assessed how adept news publishers are at each of nine key strategies for retaining subscribers — including such operations as onboarding new subscribers well, studying subscriber behavior, and testing price options. Within those strategies, we asked about nearly 40 discrete tactics to see what techniques are common or uncommon. We also asked publishers, in their own words, to share what methods are helping them the most with retention.

The result is a unique current snapshot of the retention strategies and needs among news publishers, with some of its findings contained in this report.

Our study accomplishes three practical purposes:

  • Discovers which retention tactics and strategies are being used, or not used, at news organizations.
  • Diagnoses the biggest areas of need, so API and other experts or journalism-support organizations can respond effectively.
  • Establishes benchmarking data, so a given publisher who completes this survey can compare its responses to those of other publishers. (Contact us to take the assessment yourself and get your own benchmarking data.)

In the end we reached 133 respondents whose answers represented the retention strategies of 526 publications. They include publishers big and small, newspapers and digital-only, nonprofit and for-profit. All have readers who pay for content — subscriptions, memberships, or recurring donations. And all have a shared need to retain as many paying customers as possible.

The study finds some differences in retention strategies among different types of publishers. In other ways, though, they have similarities or shared challenges.

We encourage you to explore the findings and ideas detailed in this report. They include:

And please get in touch with us at API for more information or to get help with your news organization’s subscriber retention efforts.

Editor’s note: For simplicity, throughout this study we will use terms such as “subscribers” or “subscriber retention,” however the terms should be understood to also encompass members or donors at publishers with those kinds of pay models.

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