How news sites turn Internet users into subscribers


To gain independence in the face of advertising, newspaper sites speed up the search for subscribers. Comments from Le Monde, Le Figaro and CMI Media, publisher of Elle.

The major brands of the French press are increasing their online subscribers. This is particularly the case for Le Monde and Le Figaro, which more than tripled between 2017 and 2021, and Elle, which nearly tripled over the same period, with a clear acceleration from 2019. Along with the boost provided by two years of The health crisis and the popularization of digital uses How can these results be interpreted? Through thoughtful and mature strategies thanks to years of monitoring and improvement.

“Since free software is available everywhere, the most important thing is to determine what content our readers are willing to pay for: it must be of high quality and responsive to appetite,” said Jean-Philippe Siord, Managing Director of CMI Digital, Elle Publisher. “Readers are beginning to realize that a subscription offers a quality experience, thanks in part to the streaming platforms that have helped change attitudes. The crux of the matter remains the strength of the brand and the content that it delivers,” explains Bertrand Jeh, Deputy Director of Figaro News.

Paid items, entry keys

“Nothing recruits better than a high-quality article whose first lines are detectable,” continues Bertrand Gueye, specifying that 60% of Figaro’s subscriber recruitments are generated directly through paywall articles. These correspond, on average, to 50% of the 450 articles published each day. “Our subscribers come mainly from paid articles,” confirms Lou Grasser, Marketing and Product Director at Le Monde, explaining that these articles account for 58% of the published volume. Surveys, decoders, ratings, analytics, infographics, profile pictures, and exclusive visits are among the most popular unblocked content in the three media we consulted.

Le Monde takes advantage of the newly redesigned app and live streaming to publish paid articles. Very interactive and educational, the live sessions have proven to be a very powerful asset for conquest and loyalty. “There is no doubt that the spirits contribute greatly to persuading the reader that he would benefit from a subscription.” A function also assumed by social networks, are strategic levers to attract a young audience: in 2021, half of the world’s new subscribers were under 34 years old. Figaro teams also use it as a long-term outreach tool: “We have doubled the size of our teams dedicated to the audience of social networks, which we must reach, including those who will not sign up immediately. After that”, Bertrand Gié defines.

This requires journalists to adapt the tone and format to the specifics of each social platform. An area in which you excel by making this “new writing” a key asset to attract qualified traffic with relevant content. The magazine also relies on its fan base and similar profiles as well as its fifteen newsletters to distribute premium content accessible under the paywall.

Data to help transform

Optimizing subscriber recruitment based on analysis of online readers’ behavior is now at the heart of these publishers’ business. CMI Media has been using performance analytics tools such as Content Square and Unami since last year to monitor Internet users’ preferences on the web, newsletters and social networks in the face of various alternatives to subscription incentives. Jean-Philippe Siourd explains: “It’s the sum total of the little details that allow us to go from 100% of visitors to 1% of buyers: at every stage we can have a huge impact on the transition to buying.” The publisher is in the process of integrating its customer data platform (provided by Imagino): “Aggreating all of our data at the group level (analytics, physical and digital subscriptions) will allow us to play out fairer scenarios in order to send the right message to the right person at the right time over time.”

Loyalty Features

Page load performance on the website and mobile app is key to helping convert a reader into a subscriber. “Indicators of site strength (feeling of speed) have a direct impact on reader appreciation and on the evolution of subscriptions,” explains Lou Grasser. As such, the redesign of the Le Monde app had a direct impact: +38% hiring in the second half of 2021 compared to the first half, the app’s share of generating new subscribers increased from 20% to 28%. The app also acts as a loyalty lever for subscribers, most of whom use it to access information. It has just launched the new version of its app, which has been completely rebuilt, and its function here once again will be to facilitate the experience for subscribers.

Access to discounts and ceiling

A varied pricing policy is one of the basics, to which are added specific new digital features such as the “Sign up with Google” service. In the case of Le Monde, which offers discounts of 50% for the first year to Internet users using a “subscription with Google,” the service generates 30% of new digital subscribers each month.

Finally, since the rate of change is very high in this business (about 30%, according to Bertrand Gié), whatever contributes to loyalty remains a major problem. “Suggesting payment by Sepa instead of a bank card, promoting ‘family’ offerings is a detail that makes all the difference,” he explains. But beware: the time when a subscriber can share his IDs with his relatives for their own good is over… The two dailies now use a cap system that prevents simultaneous connections outside of multi-account subscriptions. This concerns 25% of Le Monde subscribers.

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