Can Subscriptions Save the French Press?

This article was first published by La Tribune in French with the title, “L’abonnement nouvelle génération peut-il sauver la presse française ?”

 By Philippe Van Hove, Vice President Southern Europe, Zuora


The figures are formal, the current economic model of the French press is deadlocked. IREP reports show a drop in advertising revenues of 5.9% in 2016 and zero growth in 2017. Dependent on advertising for more than a century, the French press is obviously at the crossroads paths: between remaining faithful to a historical model but past, and find new levers of growth while adapting to the consumption habits of readers, he must make a choice.


With the advent of the internet, the traditional business model of the media has been turned upside down. The multiplicity and the gratuitousness of the information available on the web and the social networks put in danger the paid content that proposes the press. With the loss of readership and inadequate advertising revenue, print publishing products have seen their prices soar, preventing traditional media from commercializing information as they had until now. As a result, a new challenge has emerged: continuing to produce quality and differentiating content while reducing costs to improve profitability.


At the same time, expectations and patterns of consumer engagement with information have evolved: they seek a fluid, simple and fast experience, just like Netflix. Thanks to this platform, the subscription is concluded in three clicks. And a few moments after answering quick questions, the first suggestions of content adapted to the tastes are proposed to the new subscriber. Customizing the user experience of media consumers, regardless of their form appears equally crucial. The flexible subscription is a good lever to achieve this, provided you forget the models of the past.


No more traditional fixed subscription, subscription today becomes fluid, flexible and adapts in real time to market trends and readers: pay-per-use or subscription by the week, month etc. with the ability to pause your subscription during holidays or receive only the appropriate format, and easy subscription (and unsubscription) to new options.


Across the Atlantic and across the Channel, the metamorphosis of the jewels of the national press is already engaged. With aids much lower than in France, these media must be transformed all the faster to remain profitable. They are banking on this new economic model to overcome advertising dependence and adapt to the digital transformation of uses. The  Financial Times ,  News UK  and  The Guardian  have thus entered a new era: they have been able to create flexible “paywalls” to switch to freemium on major news events. Thanks to his record on Brexit,  The Financial Times has, for example, gained 600% additional subscribers in the weeks following the June 23, 2016 referendum.


Cultivate and develop a community

In addition, these media have been able to cultivate and develop a community among their subscribers, offering them the possibility of extending their customer experience to tailor-made content, conferences (as Le Guardian proposes with Ted) or other special events centered around their areas of interest. The Financial Times has even created an “FT Confidential Research” application offering entrepreneurs who want to internationalize valuable data and macroeconomic analysis.


This new subscription-based engagement model helps to keep subscribers in one of the most volatile economic sectors. In June 2017, Zuora’s Subscription Economy Index revealed that, in the print media, the churn rate reached 36%. To attract the most demanding players to its production, it is therefore necessary not only to pay particular attention to the quality of the content in order to differentiate itself and attract new subscribers, but also to capture and analyze the data ( content consulted, time spent preferred method of payment etc …) to understand and respond to their expectations. This is the case of the Financial Times which did not hesitate to hire data scientists to achieve this. At stake,


To ensure its survival, the French print media must review its historical business model, and reconsider the evolution of consumption patterns of its readership, while retaining quality content not only to conquer new subscribers, but also to retain those who already place their trust in him. Finally, it must evaluate its own options by experimenting with the launch of subscribing beta offers easily adaptable in real time based on feedback from its readers.


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