A Call to Arms: How Subscription Economies are Saving the Journalism Industry

by Tien Tzuo, CEO

In 2009, the journalism and publishing industries were reeling. The Rocky Mountain News had closed. The San Francisco Chronicle was in bad shape. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was no longer in print. Unprepared for the move to digital revenue streams, these hulking and dated publishers and publications have found themselves getting flanked by blogs, eBooks, and “free content.” Bankruptcies and closures decimated the industry.


And with the demise of these high-profile publications, a greater danger emerged: the death of journalism itself. Sometimes considered the “fourth-branch” of the US government, throughout American history, journalism has kept power brokers honest, revealed truths and exposed lies. But as its flagship publications closed, people began to wonder if we’d ever see another Bob Woodward.


During 2009’s dark times, I made the claim that in order to survive, publications and publishers would have to shift to digital, and re-invent their business models around the consumer, around subscriptions.


It seems that someone was listening. Over the last two years, the New York Times and Financial Times have started to move some of their content behind a paywall, and the success of these ventures indicate that customers are willing to pay for quality, subscription-based media content. Gannett, the world’s largest newspaper publisher, recently announced the majority of its 80 papers would be going behind a paywall in the next year. Similarly, in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, new CEO Scott Thompson seeks to move Yahoo “away from its advertising roots and get more of its revenue from fees and commissions.”


Now on Thursday, Pearson announced a digital distribution model for its multi platform business. With Zuora’s help, Pearson launched its Plug & Play platform initiative in under 30 days, allowing third party developers to create, display, use and create Pearson’s award-winning content. Make no mistake about it, this is only the beginning for Pearson. “We are becoming a digital business,” explains Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino. “A third of everything we sell this year will be digital”.


The New York Times’, Financial Times’ and Pearson’s actions indicate that the media industry is turning the corner; after a decade of decline, media companies demonstrate that diversified revenue streams and a digital, customer-focused model can ensure not only their survival, but their triumph.


It is my belief that media companies are a vibrant part of our culture’s fabric– they entertain, they inform, and at their best, serve as watchdogs for our societal vices and champions of our better instincts. Though the “free content” craze has thrown the publishing industry to the mat, it’s obvious that they’re getting back up.

But now is not the time to stop. The journalism and publishing industries need to rally around the success stories of their peers and continue to adapt to new technology and new ways of reaching their audience. If The New York Times, Financial Times, and Pearson can succeed, we know others can as well. Consider this a call to arms, and we here at Zuora are happy to wave the flag.

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