Subscription Redux: the news as a service

By Professor Charlie Beckett, Department of Media and Communications, LSE

As the news business seeks a model to maximise its revenue and make its content production super efficient, could a new conception of subscription be the answer?

For years I have been arguing that journalism is moving from being a manufacturing to a service industry. It used to be about creating packages of content like a newspaper that people (or the late lamented advertisers) paid for at a one-off cover price. That’s largely gone. People now get their news through a variety of sources, increasingly (free) via social networks or apps.

Again, for years I have been arguing for a networked journalism that builds a relationship with the audience throughout the process of production: news gathering from social media, interactive sharing and moderation. But the final stage eluded me as a business model. How to get people to pay for this stream of connected content creation?

The old kind of subscription was a discount sales pitch: “£12 for 12 months”, “£6 for students” etc. It was just a pricing deal not an offer that respected the customer’s interest in your product or a way of adding real value to their experience.

We are now seeing a more committed form of subscription. In the UK the Economist, Times and Financial Times, to name just three, are working much harder at using audience data to underpin a continuous process of engagement. It could be all those reader’s offers in The Times of holidays, cinema tickets etc. Or much more interestingly, the way that the FT and Economist (and others) are working on personalisation. They are producing fewer stories but making them work harder by adapting to different platforms, deepening the vertical extent of their coverage with more opportunities for the reader to tailor their experience and more attention to what the subscriber wants.

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And check out our guide The New Paywall: 5 Strategies for Newspaper Readership Growth

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