We asked publishers whether or not they currently follow 38 different tactics that each may help with customer/subscriber retention in different ways. We found some of the best practices are employed more widely than others.

Almost all publishers said they encourage their newest subscribers to sign up for email newsletters. They also use analytics to track what subscribers, as a whole, are or aren’t reading.

Many publishers also use onboarding tactics, such as sending welcome emails to new subscribers. And they respond to questions or concerns readers may raise on social media.

Overall, there were 10 retention-related tactics that we found at least two-thirds of publishers employ. They are shown in the table below.

The Top 10: Most-common retention tactics

Percent of publishers who use each tactic
We encourage new subscribers to sign up for our email newsletters 90%
We use analytics to track what subscribers as a whole are reading 89%
We track data about which digital content online users engage with 86%
We send welcome emails that highlight features of their subscription including apps, e-editions, rewards programs, etc. 78%
We respond to individual concerns and complaints on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. 78%
Customer service tracks reasons for cancellation or lapse 74%
We conduct campaigns to win back recent cancellations 72%
We email subscribers to remind them about the overall benefits of their subscription 69%
Introductory price discounts 69%
We send surveys via email 68%

Next there is a larger group of 16 retention-related tactics that roughly half of publishers employ and half don’t.

Some of the common themes among this middle group are credit-card or customer-care tactics, such as using software to update credit cards and training customer service representatives to save cancellations.

Some tactics are dependent on having certain technical systems or expertise — like tracking individual subscriber behavior, using specific software for credit card updates and overhauling UX and customer experience for online account management.

But other tactics here are more feasible for any publisher to adopt. These include sending subscribers thank-you notes from journalists, calculating the lifetime value of a subscriber, and training customer service teams how to save cancellation requests and address complaints.

The Mixed Bag: 16 retention tactics many publishers do, but many also don’t

Percent of publishers who use each tactic
Customer service collects more general feedback about the website, news content, etc. 62%
We give access to exclusive content 62%
We calculate a Lifetime Value metric for our subscribers 60%
Our customer service reps are trained in tactics for “saving” renewals when customers ask to cancel 60%
Options for billing frequency (monthly, quarterly, annual) 59%
We send email marketing asking for updated their credit card information 59%
We use a vendor or software that attempts to automatically update any credit card number that has changed 57%
There is a shared understanding across the organization of our goals for retention and whether we are meeting them 54%
We offer free or discounted access to our own events 46%
We send educational information about how to use our products 46%
They receive a personal thank-you note from a journalist or executive 43%
We identify subscribers who are not engaging/reading content online regularly or at all 42%
We make it easy for people to cancel subscriptions online, so they have an improved customer experience. 41%
Free trials 41%
We recommend email newsletters to subscribers based on what content they have engaged with 41%
We identify subscribers who do not engage with our other products and platforms, such as newsletters, events, podcasts, social media, etc. 41%

And then there are a dozen retention tactics that are followed by less than a third of publishers.

Many of these tactics may seem challenging or resource-intensive. They involve creating advanced segmentation or personalization, or offering subscriber-only benefits programs that have to be designed and administered.

The Overlooked: 12 retention tactics used by less than a third of publishers

Percent of publishers who use each tactic
We have one-to-one communications when on site prompting subscribers to update credit card information 33%
We target low-engagement subscribers with campaigns to re-engage with content before their renewal date 31%
We organize meetups of subscribers and our employees 31%
We segment our subscribers based on their risk of cancellation 28%
We offer a reward program 27%
We offer discounts on local products and services 27%
We ask visitors to answer a survey while they are on our website or app 25%
We send them free gifts 25%
We send individual subscribers personalized messages about the content and services they have used 23%
We personalize the content subscribers see on our website or app based on what they have previously engaged with 20%
We personalize our communications with individual subscribers based on what they are reading 17%
Our subscribers can get other news and entertainment services for free or discounted prices through our partnerships 17%

Share with your network

You also might be interested in:

  • Ways to support conversations for balancing innovation and stability in your news organization, essential considerations about this often overlooked topic, and guidance to include them in your technology decisions.

  • Successfully and efficiently marketing your work can be hard, especially for local news teams with limited resources, but marketing yourself to your audience is an essential skill for news organizations to drive revenue and promote sustainability.

  • As news teams begin thinking about their election coverage plans, it may feel like adding more tasks to an already full plate, with a fraction of the staff and resources they once had. But that doesn’t have to mean figuring out how to do more with less — maybe it’s doing less with less.