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The Economist behind the scenes: using social media to increase subscriptions

The early days of the internet provided substantial amounts of revenue for big magazines and newspapers as they turned to digital advertising, yet they could also rely on print subscriptions and ads to keep the cash flow going. As digital has replaced print in many venues, online ad revenues haven’t completely plugged the loss of print ad revenues. The Economist is looking at alternative financial source: subscriptions via social media.

Social subscribers can translate to money for publishers

By focusing on subscribers, The Economist ensures a steady cash flow that is free from the vagaries of the ad revenue market. However, it’s the way that it’s attracting these subscribers that caught our eye: through social media.

The Economist distributes a certain proportion of its work through social media, allowing people to access its content. Nonsubscribers can view up to three articles a week, so if they want more, they need to pay. During 2016, this strategy has increased its digital subscription rate from 303,500 to 345,500 — an increase of nearly 14 percent.

The magazine titillates its readers by repurposing content for social media. Its facts of the day feature gives a straight fact without any context, driving interested readers to find out more by accessing additional information on The Economist. Organic high-performing posts carefully targeted content and retargeting help to turn casual readers on social media into subscribers.

Social media presents an opportunity for digital publishers to advertise their work in a variety of forms. At SODP, we’ve noticed that when digital publishers use Facebook in a targeted manner, they can lower reader acquisition costs substantially, and because those readers are already engaged with the content, it’s relatively simple to convert them into regular readers.

Social targeting and acquisition

Essentially, The Economist ensures that its targeted readers get into the habit of reading the magazine to get a wide range of information. This promotes loyalty, and it gently persuades them that they need to pay for more. While much of the low-hanging fruit has already likely been picked, we believe an ongoing social media strategy to keep this form of digital publishing going is key to The Economist’s success.

What do you think of this approach to targeting and acquiring new readership?

Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at vahe@stateofdigitalpublishing.com.



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