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Paths to Subscription: Why Recent Subscribers Chose to Pay for News

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Overview • This latest study may be the largest study ever undertaken of people who have recently subscribed to newspapers. It surveyed people who subscribed in the last three months to 90 local newspapers across the country. The survey of more than 4,100 recent newspaper subscribers captures their motives and mindsets at the time of the decision. The sample was large enough to see differences among large papers and small, reader preferences for digital consumption versus print, Democrats versus Republicans, and a host of other factors.

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Paths to subscriptions • The report identified nine distinct “paths to subscriptions” —the motives and conditions that together lead a person to subscribe. • Some people are looking for coverage of a particular passion topic. • Others have subscribed because of a change in their lifestyle. • Some want coupons to save them money. • Some discovered the paper through social media. • Others want to support journalism as an institution. • All are subscribers.

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Paths to subscriptions The nine paths are: 1. Digital Paywall Converters 2. Topic Hunters 3. The Locally Engaged 4. Social Media-Mobile Discoverers 5. Journalism Advocates 6. Life Changers 7. Coupon Clippers 8. Print Fans 9. Friends and Family

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Among study findings • Quality and accuracy matter to nearly every subscriber group, especially after they subscribe. • When asked for the most important reasons they use the newspaper, now that they subscribe, people are most likely to cite a publication’s accuracy (78 percent), its willingness to admit mistakes (69 percent), and its dealing fairly with all sides (68 percent) as most important.

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Among study findings • Regardless of their underlying motivations, many subscribers are triggered by discounts at just the right time. • Nearly half of all recent subscribers (45 percent) cited pricing promotions as the immediate trigger, more than double any other factor.

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Among study findings • Market size matters. There are some important differences between what drives people at small or medium-sized papers and metros (large and small). • New subscribers to small papers are more likely than those at large metros to prefer print over digital (85 percent vs. 56 percent) and to subscribe after moving to town (23 percent vs. 13 percent). • Subscribers to large metros are more likely than those at small papers to subscribe after noticing a lot of interesting articles (45 percent vs. 30 percent).

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Among study findings • Print and digital subscribers are different. Digital subscribers in this study tend to be younger, male, and more educated than print readers. • Digital readers are more often attracted by good coverage of a particular topic than are print readers (38 percent vs. 25 percent), and by noticing especially useful or interesting content (47 percent vs. 36 percent). • Half of digital subscribers are triggered to subscribe by hitting a paywall meter, and they are more likely than print readers to be motivated by a desire to support local journalism (38 percent vs. 29 percent).

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Among study findings • The findings offer an opportunity and also a warning for publishers. They suggest that cutting back on newsrooms now (as many publishers do to maintain profit margins against declining revenue) imperils any long-term subscription strategy. • Publishers may have to accept a smaller, or in some cases no, margin of profit now to invest in the content quality that potential subscribers demand. (I have a REALLY big problem with this one!)

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More info 6 minute video on nine paths to subscriptions: