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Postcards and laundromat visits: The Texas Tribune audience team experiments with IRL distribution
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Aug. 6, 2019, 11:41 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   August 6, 2019

It’s not just about eyeballs anymore. As news organizations turn to readers for more of their revenue, they’re less concerned about pageviews and unique visitors and more about whether their audiences actually stick around — which, in turn, makes them more likely to pay up.

The Atlantic is just one media company that’s focused increasingly on building habit and keeping readers coming back, as it plans to launch a revamped online subscription program with a metered paywall this fall. (This is not to be confused with The Masthead, the magazine’s $100/year membership program that launched in 2017.) This week, The Atlantic’s consulting/creative division, Atlantic 57, released a report that lays out the four kinds of readers The Atlantic has identified — and that other publishers might want to try to recognize on their own sites as well. (Take note, LA Times).

Here are the four reader segments, along with tactics to move them along the path to subscription:

Passersby make up as much as 80 percent of a publisher’s traffic, and are likely to “come to you through a side door and lurk around your big viral hit,” the report notes, or to arrive through search: “The Atlantic found that its ‘Passersby’ overindex on archival content by about 12 percent, compared to the site average.” Publishers can try to keep them on the site by showing them related stories — ideally right in the story rather than in a sidebar or at the bottom of the page: “By embedding a related link between paragraphs, rather than recommending several stories to the side of the article, The Atlantic saw a 5 percent increase in the number of pages visited per user session.”

[Speaking of that, the paywall company Piano is building “bendy paywalls” for publishers who are trying to build loyal audiences.]

Occasionals visit about once a month — more frequently than passersby — and because they’re on the site more, at The Atlantic they “are 3 percent more likely to encounter new content than the site average.” These folks are a little more familiar with your brand, and you can try to hook them further by signing up for a newsletter or subscribing to a podcast from right in the article page.

The Atlantic has boosted sign-ups to its newsletters by as much as 66% by promoting these loyalty drivers on its article pages. The product team is also testing customization of these promos, so audiences won’t see ads for the newsletter if they already subscribe.

Regulars visit multiple times a month, month after month, but they’re not yet paying. “They are on the cusp of becoming habitual readers, they just need a little push from you to make it official,” the report notes. One way to do that is to make signing up for a subscription easier: “Include features like social sign-ups, mobile-friendly web pages, and alternate payment options, like Amazon Pay, to make it easy for your audience to cross the finish line.” Even simple steps like making “Donate” buttons larger can help.

Super fans are the small group that seeks you out, comes to you directly, and pays. “Consider special benefits, like discounts or access to exclusive events, that your organization can offer your super fans to keep them excited about your work.” Don’t forget: Frequency of visits is the single biggest predictor of retaining subscribers.

You can download the full report here.

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