Content that drives subscriptions for digital publishers

Will the content you’ve created for print hit the mark with an online audience?

OK, you have a shiny new website that can accept payments in return for access to content. But will the content you’ve spent years creating for print hit the mark with an online audience?


Broadly speaking, yes. But there is an art to repurposing print content for digital use and knowing what you can do to add value for readers now that you’re reaching them faster and more easily than ever.


The International News Media Association ran the numbers on this and broke it into two sections:


  • The four things that make up the value proposition for audiences to pay for content;
  • and the 12 proven subscriber acquisition triggers for local and regional publishers

When combined, they form a powerful tool for publishing across digital and print.


The four Cs that create a value proposition for paying audiences


The first one, content, is a no-brainer. But content frequency can be a challenge for small publishers and you may need to investigate the viability of updating your site more regularly.


Online audiences are just that, online. All the time. And their appetite has changed. Refreshing your content more frequently to meet the expectations of your readers can give them the push they need to sign up for your offering.

There is an art to repurposing print content for digital use and knowing what you can do to add value for readers

The second is community. Especially in regional publishing territory. Most small publishers are very good at creating a sense of community and some just need to use new digital tools to scale it. For example, allowing and moderating comments on stories; running and owning local events such as election debates or food festivals; or supporting local groups through more scaled content about them. Your website is now a community  your readers can join any time of the day or night, instead of waiting for your next print edition.


Speaking of which, you need to be convenient.  Digital, by proxy, is far more convenient than print, but it can also be a nightmare for your readers. Make it as easy as possible for people to pick up what you’re putting down – whether that’s via a simple login, user-friendly categorisation of your stories, recommendations for what they should read next, or sending an email at an appropriate time. Convenience means fitting in with your audience’s day, not interrupting it. 


And of course, readers get behind a cause – another area where many small publishers excel. Reducing crime, helping drought-affected farmers, supporting a local family, advocating for law change, local sports or charities – all of them push readers further towards being a subscriber. 


Breaking down these four Cs, you may notice only one of them is a rational trigger (content) while the rest are emotional – showing that just because you publish things doesn’t mean you deserve or have earned the attention of the reader (or their hard-earned). Emotions are at play, and you need to strike the right balance for you business and your audience. 


12 proven subscriber-acquisition content types for news publishers


The list is familiar, and many news publishers do most or all of them. But the research shows those that cover more of these types of content acquire and keep subscribers more often. That said, no one knows your audience better than you – so finding the right mix, served at the right frequency, is vital. They are:


  • Investigative journalism 
  • Crime/police/legal 
  • Highly shareable articles (great imagery or video – eg, wild storms, wildlife, etc)
  • Accidents 
  • Healthcare 
  • Long-form articles
  • Opinion 
  • Local business 
  • Opinion by star/known guest writers 
  • National politics 
  • Stories that improve your life 
  • Live stream local football

The key is to align your resources, your staff’s capabilities and your objectives to cover the things you know better, and that will work for your business.


It’s also a good idea to trial things you may not have done previously. You never know where subscribers may be hiding.

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