Growing digital audiences into “regular readers” requires a defined audience engagement strategy.
The publishers studied generally shared definitions for their digital audiences – and the most effective strategies to reach and engage them. Across data provided by 15 metro area publishers, we saw the following proportions of digital audiences:
- Sixty eight percent (68%) of readers view only one article in a thirty-day period.
- Twenty-three percent (23%) of readers view between two and five articles in a thirty-day period.
- Only nine percent (9%) of users were “regular readers,” who view more than five articles in a thirty-day period.
Publishers with high engagement see a higher volume of these regular readers. News organizations with larger-than-average “regular readership” – engaging that critical nine percent of audiences – tended to prioritize audience engagement efforts, including social media content promotion, in-situ recommendation engines, dedicated newsletters, and dedicated audience development teams.
Our research found the most successful publishers test and deepen one or two of these audience engagement verticals to test which strategies most effectively drive one-time and occasional readers to increase their readership.
Benchmarking Stop Rates Key finding: Most publishers are too generous and need to stop more readers to force conversion. Across publishers studied who had metered or “freemium” subscription models, their operations focused on building a critical metric: the stop rate, the percentage of all digital users who are “stopped” by a subscription prompt, a paywall, or a meter limit. The stop rate is calculated by the number of users stopped by a meter or paywall in a given month over the number unique visitors during that period. A majority of the publishers studied across this metric are stopping a limited proportion of readers relative to their overall audiences. Among the more than 500 news organizations analyzed, the fiftieth percentile of publishers stops only 1.8 percent of their readership with a paywall or meter.
Among our most significant findings is that a majority of the publishers studied lagged behind thriving news organizations in their stop rate. Definitionally, a publisher with a low stop rate is only asking a small and likely insufficient percentage of their readership to subscribe. Even if the news organization is successful in converting their addressable audiences and unique visitors, publishers that are underperforming likely have limited opportunity to grow subscribers if they are failing to stop a significant enough portion of their overall readership. A news organization’s stop rate often distinguishes high-performing publishers. The large metropolitan daily newspapers studied report stop rates approximately double the industry as a whole, with a median stop rate of 3.64 percent. These publishers often invest heavily in audience development, effective newsletters and social media marketing to circulate their content to build engagement. Publishers like the youth-focused Mic report a high return on investment around the developing customized and niche strategies by channel within their engagement activities unit. A majority of the publishers studied lagged behind thriving news organizations in their stop rate. the 80th and 90th percentiles of all publishers studied (at or above 4.2% of all readers). The publishers that reported more than 6% of unique visitors reaching their stop threshold had “thriving” digital subscription businesses – robust teams, and well-developed audience engagement strategies. Organizations with smaller engagement teams might first focus on one key channel – newsletters – and optimize through testing multiple approaches to messaging.
Publishers can understand why their stop rate is high or low by isolating stop rates by platform and channel; testing meter rules including the duration and number of pieces of content included in the meter; and benchmarking their audience engagement within their market, or against other similar publishers in other geographies or with similar-sized digital audiences or sophistication. Technical challenges can also be a source of challenge: the majority of meter stops are driven by desktop. Mobile stop rates lag those of desktop due in part to the technical challenges of implementing mobile metered paywalls; news organizations that have not optimized these channels might be missing opportunities to bolster their stop rate.