In July of 2021, The Post and Courier began work on a project in conjunction with Google News Initiative (GNI). The purpose of the collaboration was to explore the efficacy of paid newsletters as a viable growth strategy for the news organization. Could the paper create alternative revenue streams and increase its digital audience effectively with this new type of subscription model? And what would that entail?
About The Post and Courier’s vision
It is worth noting that the Post and Courier has made a conscious effort to think forward. Where other traditional news organizations have shrunk, the newspaper has done quite the opposite. In 2021, The Post and Courier announced that it had grown its digital subscriber base to over 20,000. It’s also rapidly expanding, giving the paper a truly statewide reach with locations now in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Greenville, Spartanburg, North Augusta and Hilton Head. The paper also recently doubled down on its commitment to print, building an all-new state-of-the-art printing press. The opportunity with GNI presented a chance to even further expand the brand.
As any marketer worth their salt knows, our engagement with media is constantly evolving. Wherever you look you can see the effects — whether that’s in Tik Tok being the most visited website of 2022, the advent of the Metaverse, or our consumption of movies and the surprising decline of Netflix subscriptions. To keep up with the times is imperative to be flexible and willing to experiment.
So in the summer of last year, The Post and Courier launched two newsletters built around collegiate athletics — The Tiger Take and Gamecocks Now. Both newsletters are subscription-based, meaning they require subscribers to pay. Gamecocks Now is written by a 20-year veteran of the beat— David Cloninger and The Tiger Take is written by Clemson newcomer, but veteran sports journalist— Jon Blau.
After seeing the success of the two sports newsletters, the paper launched the food newsletter, CHS Menu, (Charleston’s Menu) in late February of 2022. In partnership with GNI, The Post and Courier revealed a few of their findings. The main learnings were as such:
Lead growth is essential to subscriber growth. Before launching the sports newsletters there was a small number of leads. The Post and Courier had explored a free sports newsletter and used this niche audience to help grow its subscriber base. However, by placing more of an emphasis on growing the top of funnel, in 8 months the team was able to grow previous leads by 268%. These leads led to both subscriptions for the paper as well as subscriptions to the two paid newsletters.
Make ARPU a key metric. At the initial launch of the Gamecocks Now and The Tiger Take existing PC subscribers were offered a highly discounted price point as a bundle offer. While this drove subscription numbers, it ended up drastically tanking ARPU. It also, due to the nature of the sale, led to a high percentage of churn. By increasing the price of the newsletter bundle and killing the previous offer the sports newsletters were able to increase ARPU by over 8%, while also combatting churn and increasing revenue.
Estimating Audience Size
The most important learning from the partnership with GNI was helping approximate potential audience size. GNI had previously provided the target of subscription numbers to be 1.5% of the monthly audience on the paper’s website. By using these numbers the sports newsletters are already 63% to goal in only 8 months! Using this data also helped assess a proper estimate for subscribers to the food newsletter as well as the paper itself.
Make open rates key! Before the Apple IOS update, the sports newsletters maintained well over 40% open rates. Especially for paid newsletters, this metric is crucial to success.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can read the case study: here.