Acquisition Strategies for Modern Media: Transitioning from Print to Digital

Acquisition Strategies for Modern Media: Transitioning from Print to Digital

3 Creative Acquisition Strategies for Print-to-Digital Publishers


“The most effective retention strategy is a really good acquisition strategy. If we want to improve retention, we have to be better at acquisition. It doesn’t just mean pumping up the numbers, it means looking at the customer lifetime value.” – Denise Warren, Former President of Digital at Tribune Publishing and former EVP of Digital at The New York Times

As newspapers and other media publishers transition to what we at Zuora call a “modern media company,” they’re finding that their creativity needs to extend beyond their special editions.

Competition no longer comes solely from other publications (print and digital). They are also vying for audience attention with television, OTT video, and popular social media outlets such as Instagram, X (Twitter), TikTok, and Substack — all of which feature news. Economic challenges also underscore the importance of standout value-driven offers in a crowded market.

Pricing undeniably plays a critical role in customer acquisition and retention. To win over new subscribers and retain existing ones, your pricing, offers and promotions must align with the needs and preferences of the modern consumer. The best way to cater to their pricing preferences is by giving them the freedom to pick the offer that best suits their needs.

Here are a few ways that modern media companies are creatively using flexible pricing to acquire new customers:


1. Experiment with Offers and Promotions

Having flexible pricing strategies and systems will give your customers more ways to engage with you on an ongoing basis. Think cross-sells and upsells, and seasonal surges in demand.

The New York Times Company, for example, has had great success with creative pricing strategies to drive acquisition. In recent years, this modern media company ramped up its bundling and unbundling strategy and closed out 2023 with more than 10 million subscribers by pairing its core news product with offerings such as Games (The Crossword, Wordle), Wirecutter (product recommendations), Cooking, and The Athletic (sports news).

What sets The Times apart from its competitors is its focus on monetization, which is how a business matches what it values with what its customers value, takes that to market and then generates revenue from it. In other words, this company found out what its audience wanted and gave it to them.

Other emerging strategies to pair with subscriptions that media companies should consider include:

  • Freemium models: Spotify and Dropbox offer basic services for free with the option to upgrade, catering to varying customer needs and encouraging loyalty. This is a familiar approach in the media sector, as well. Examples include limiting how much content a reader can access before requiring them to become a customer/member/subscriber. This approach offers audiences a low barrier to entry and a risk-free way of engaging with you, presents the opportunity to see your value, and gives them a reason to sign up/subscribe.
  • Partnerships: Sometimes two (or more) heads are better than one. Think a customer segment is more likely to see value if your product is packaged with a product from another organization? Consider teaming up. The alternative could be that neither of you ever land that customer group. 
  • Bespoke product offerings: What makes The New York Times a winner is that it doesn’t force customers to buy all of its offerings. Sure, that’s the preferred outcome, but sometimes the barrier to entry is by starting a customer off with one product and upselling over time. Why can’t that work for you? Maybe a customer or prospect only wants to consume your sports content, or your political coverage, or simply lifestyle and entertainment news. Build a package around them individually, bundle a mix of sections – find what your customers respond to the most and have expressed the most interest in and give it to them.
  • Tiered pricing: This model allows customers to choose what level of service they want out of several options. This allows slightly more flexibility for customers instead of forcing them to pick just one fixed price.
  • Add-ons and one-offs: Platforms like Netflix and Steam enhance value by selling merchandise and downloadable content, enriching their user experience. In the media sector, magazine publishers have turned to this approach by separately offering special editions and creating subscription packages where customers receive surprise publications.

These are examples of strategies that continuously evolve monetization with demand. We call this strategy: Total Monetization.

Publishers achieve modern media company status by adopting Total Monetization strategies. Zuora achieves this with its sophisticated data analytics capabilities that enable media companies to harness the power of user data, crafting offers that resonate on an individual level. By leveraging predictive models, media companies can anticipate subscriber needs and preferences, driving personalized engagement and significantly improving acquisition rates. This approach ensures that every offer is data-backed, increasing relevance and appeal to potential subscribers.


2. Customer Segmentation and Data

“The only way to price a product is to understand and segment your customers. Figure out what they value. Figure out what they are willing to pay,” advises Denise Warren, former digital chief at The New York Times.

As modern media companies grow their products, it becomes important to identify the price points that get customers to latch onto your service. The trick is to identify the “just right” pricing for customers at different stages of the monetization journey.

Customer segmentation is an exercise to filter your customer data into meaningful buckets. Businesses can use it to understand what elements of a product existing and potential subscribers are willing to pay for, and then understand the different pieces of the pie that they value in relation to each other (Ex: 30% value digital access more than print).

Understanding your subscribers goes beyond basic demographics. Advanced analytics provided by Zuora delve deep into subscriber behavior, preferences, and engagement patterns, allowing media companies to segment their audience with precision. This deepened understanding enables proactive actions, such as customizing content and offers, to enhance retention and value realization.

“Data, data, data – it’s all about data. That’s just the game,” says Warren.


3. Maximize Real-Time Event Opportunities

An undisputable advantage that modern media companies have over their predecessors is that the internet has allowed for immediate and live coverage of events. But are publishers ready to acquire new subscribers when there’s an unexpected surge in demand? Most lack both systems and strategies required to maximize acquisition opportunities presented by real-time events. The key is to have a flexible pricing system that scales on demand.

One modern media company embracing the opportunities presented by events is the 127-year-old Daily Racing Form. 

“We moved from thinking of ourselves as a 120-year-old newspaper brand to being a service that helped people play better and win more,” former Chief Digital Officer Todd Unger said. “Our audience bets on horse racing and about 85 percent of those bets go through in the last five minutes before the race goes off. If you think about that, the value of real-time data leading up to the point of action becomes incredibly important.”

The company had long worked as a traditional print model which closed on Wednesday for a Friday issue and then published those news stories online. But they realized that the value of the information increased leaps and bounds when their customers sat at the track. That led to the birth of DRF Live. 

“We’ve got reporters on every one of those tracks, observing the track conditions, seeing horses in the paddock, talking to trainers, getting inside information,” Unger said. “All the value of those little tidbits was going to Twitter, not to us. So, we created a very simple platform that allowed our reporters to report in real-time and create a real-time stream of information. We first offered it for free and then ended up folding it into our premium content package called DRF Plus.”

The publishing sector is fast-paced, with real-time events offering unique opportunities for subscriber engagement and acquisition. Zuora empowers media teams to capitalize on these moments with agility and ease, reducing time to market for relevant offers.


The Necessity for a Living Monetization Strategy

The media landscape demands agility and innovation from companies aiming to thrive. Whatever your pricing strategies are, flexible pricing and packaging is a key component to monetization success. Your business must have the freedom to experiment with and implement creative pricing strategies. You must be able to customize, test, tweak and try again until you get it right. And then rinse, repeat and constantly update to keep pace with your reader’s ever-changing needs.

Zuora’s platform enables media companies to experiment, personalize, and engage with subscribers in meaningful, impactful ways. In the face of economic challenges and a competitive digital space, leveraging Zuora’s technology and insights for strategic pricing, packaging, and subscriber engagement is essential. The ongoing need for flexibility and innovation in offer curation, subscriber understanding, and real-time event response is paramount for success in the modern digital era.

Learn more on how Zuora’s flexible pricing system is helping publishers such as The Guardian, Financial Times, and The Seattle Times evolve into modern media companies.



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