Learn the top 3 takeaways to boost reader revenue and subscription growth

Written by Fredrik Lundberg

28 Mar, 2023

It was “the snowstorm of the century”. At least, that is what it felt like when I was trying to reach the International News Media Association (INMA) Media Subscriptions Summit in Stockholm at the beginning of March.

Working in the media industry this event was a must-visit with great speakers, sessions, and the opportunity to network with bright minds. So it came as a relief when I finally arrived at the venue Hilton Slussen.

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This is an image montage. When this image was taken, the snowstorm had settled and turned Stockholm into a beautiful winter landscape 🙂

Needless to say, I had three great days and learned a lot! Since I believe in sharing knowledge, I have written down my top three insights and examples. I hope you find them interesting. Please feel free to contact me here on LinkedIn for discussions or questions!

My top 3 takeaways on reader revenue and subscription growth 

  • Hypothesis testing: Trial and error method for subscription growth.
  • Unlock the power of cross-functional teams: inclusion, engagement, and innovation for reader revenue.
  • Bundle Up: The latest trend in digital subscriptions to add value and retain customers.

My top 3 examples

  • Do you ever feel afraid of failing?
  • Increasing donations by 298 % and understanding what makes readers tick.
  • Attracting young readers, the “holy grail” of long-term digital success.


Hypothesis testing: Trial and error method for subscription growth. 

If you have tried to innovate and transform, you might have a “love and hate relationship” with the trial and error approach. To succeed through disruption and unknowns, you must adopt a hypothesis-driven iterative process where you gather ideas, test, fail, learn, and try again. This process is sometimes painful and frustrating.

But… After rain comes sunshine! All successful subscription stories at INMA were, in some way, achieved through this method. The publishers’ efforts and persistence have yielded growth numbers of up to 8 times in just a few years! As a founder of iMatrics, I am a big fan of this approach. It has a proven track record in multiple fields—all with many unknowns and no clear answers. If you work with any fast-innovating companies, like small tech providers, I can almost guarantee that you can learn from their agility and iterative processes.

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INMA main stage at the event in Stockholm.
Unlock the power of cross-functional teams: inclusion, engagement, and innovation for reader revenue

At INMA, there were whole sessions on the value and importance of cross-functional teams. This topic connects well with the previous one. Digital transformation will inevitably change how you organize your business. One benefit of trial and error is that it opens up to input from many. The flip side is that you need a cross-functional team at the core of any significant changes. You need to create enough freedom for this team to test different approaches in the search for new valuable results. This is essential but not easy! In addition, it was clear from the event that even the soft values such teams provide are great: they create engagement and inclusion throughout the organization. Suddenly everyone is allowed a seat at the table, and the best ideas come from unexpected places.

Bundle Up: The latest trend in digital subscriptions to add value and retain customers

Bundle, bundle, bundle. This came up so frequently during the event that we even laughed at it together. Bundling vs. un-bundling is constantly discussed, and the current trend is undoubtedly bundling. Different product bundles, and bundles with third-party value add-ons, broadens the offer and convert new subscribers. Bundling for retention can also be a good strategy during difficult economic times. Schibsted recently launched their all-access pass, where one can access all their news brands and the premium PodMe-platform. The Times Of India Times Of India bundle by reader segmentation: avid and casual readers. Read more here.

Now for the examples 

Do you ever feel afraid of failing? 

Italian Corriere della Sera knows that feeling all too well. They knew they needed to act but were afraid of change and of cannibalizing other revenue streams. I was impressed by how they showed bravery and determination and got wonderful results. They shared how a combination of small and big steps, supported by data, created fantastic progress. In 2022 they reached +500k digital subscribers—4 times pre-pandemic numbers! They adopted new bundle strategies (providing added value by offering VIP experiences such as backstage theatre visits) and partnerships with trade associations and schools. Well done!

Increasing donations by 298 % and understanding what makes readers tick

The Guardian’s iterative approach, mixed with a lot of creativity, has provided outstanding results.

The Guardian’s business model has forced the team to push their understanding of what makes their product attractive to readers and, thus, what motivates them to donate. One motivating factor was “Protect the free press,” which I believe transitions well to all news consumers. The Guardian is a front-runner in communicating their value proposition and why they exist. Through many iterations, they have evaluated hundreds of ideas, finding gemstones like one that yielded a 298 % increase. Staggering results!

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Increasing donations by 298 % and understanding what makes readers tick

Understanding what makes readers tick is now an integral part of the growth strategy, and they communicate their mission to supporters clearly and compellingly.

I strongly recommend everyone to visit the Guardian and carefully read the donation message below every article. Why? Because I feel that we all have something to learn when it comes to communicating the mission, why we exist, and what value we offer to readers in a way that motivates someone to pay. Read more about The Guardian and NIKKEI here.

Attracting young readers, the “holy grail” of long-term digital success. 

On this topic, we heard from Nikkei in Japan. They discovered that young readers sometimes lack the experience and knowledge to contextualize news. This led to the launch of their unique Think!-strategy, which helped them significantly reduce churn among their younger subscribers. Think! revolves around inviting external experts to comment on the news to explain and contextualize. Think! readers show a significantly higher engagement. I look forward to following how this evolves!

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Nikkei’s presentation at the INMA subscription summit
My bonus: Gender equality as a growth factor!

Did you know that Sweden is the only country in the world with more female than male news subscribers!? Writing news for and about everyone makes sense, but many publishers have a considerable gap between male and female subscribers. Driving more female subscribers should be a goal in any growth strategy, as they make up half of your addressable market.

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Gender analysis as a Service

Our Swedish customers have, for a couple of years now, been using a gender analysis tool (click here to learn more). An initiative started by Stampen Media and Gota Media that has been continuously improved by them and others who have joined in, such as NTM ABRitzaus Bureau, and NWT Media AB. On International women’s day, NTM AB publishes a video regarding their work on more gender-balanced news reporting; you find it here.

To sum up: listening to how Grzegorz Piechota ended the INMA summit with this amazing insight made me very proud, and I left the venue in an extra good mood. Thank you, Greg, Dr. Ruth BetzRobert Whitehead, and the whole International News Media Association (INMA) team, for a fantastic event!

If you have questions or ideas and want to keep the discussion going, please reach out to me at: mari.ahlquist@imatrics.com or visit iMatrics.com .

And don’t forget to subscribe to our LinkedIn Newsletter here.

Best, Mari

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