Collective wisdom: Building a Subscription Program

In today’s increasingly competitive media landscape, publishers need strong, customer-centric strategies to succeed. While traditional outreach methods can boost subscriptions, building a sustainable long-term growth model often requires a dynamic, outside-the-box approach.

In search of lasting growth, countless publishers have turned to Piano’s industry-leading data analytics and algorithms. After identifying the pain points unique to their businesses, we equip our publishers with the tools and resources they need to build successful subscription programs from the ground up.

Here are a few success stories that illustrate the power of our data-driven approach.

The legacy print media company reimagined as digital first

The challenge:

A 100+ year old media company with origins as a weekly journal began venturing into the online media space in 2007. In 2020, after reimagining its approach to digital operations—which included stepping back print frequency to monthly and approaching content with a digital-first (and sometimes, a digital-only) perspective—the publisher turned to Piano to help grow revenue via a registration wall and digital donations.

The publisher began by encouraging users to register for online accounts, sending daily newsletters and emails to increase donations. Despite 40,000 new email registrations in just eight months, the company needed more; when it came to cultivating a sustainable business model, donation requests simply weren’t enough.

But moving to a paid subscription model entailed some risk: would implementing a paywall decrease traffic or cut into existing donation streams? And would readers be willing to pay for niche content—or would the client lose valuable traffic?

The solution:

After launching a comprehensive subscription overview page which detailed all offers, benefits, and FAQs, the publisher split-tested multiple approaches to registration walls and paywall templates. Bolstered by the existing audience generated by newsletter sign-ups, the strategy was a resounding success: it resulted in more than 5,000 paid subscriptions in just two months.

In addition to other personalization tactics, the publisher implemented Piano’s machine learning algorithms, enabling better user segmentation and targeting. Based on their Likelihood to Subscribe (LtS) scores, readers were shown customized offers and specific content recommendations meant to prolong user sessions.

The takeaway:

Know your audience.

By targeting the users most likely to convert into paid subscribers, Piano helped this publisher achieve steady, sustainable growth. In less than a year, the journal reached 10,000 paid subscribers. Today, this digital powerhouse boasts 100,000 registered users and 13,000 online subscribers, in addition to 35,000 traditional print subscribers. And despite concerns, the media company saw record donations on their annual giving days.

Since the initial roll-out, the journal has launched premium content offers and content recommendations, both seeing strong success indicators. Not only has this publisher seen steady organic growth in registration and subscription rates, their digital users have a strong retention rate that matches their print retention rate.

The legacy newspaper personalizing the reader experience

The challenge:

As one of the oldest national newspapers, this publisher knew that top-tier reporting doesn’t always lead to a sustainable paid subscription program. Instead, its high-quality content began to attract a different kind of attention: competing publishers were adopting its content as their own, reaping the rewards along the way. To attract loyal subscribers, this publisher needed to create an unrivaled user experience that couldn’t be imitated.

The solution:

The answer was simple enough: curate the reader' experience. Piano’s machine learning tools gave users highly relevant content recommendations, suppressing content they had already seen or clicked on. This approach also transformed the publisher’s mobile app experience: by automatically running personalized user feeds against curated news, a process called deduping, the publisher ensured that readers were always given new, relevant content. In this case, personalization completely transformed the user experience—and, in turn, drove engagement and subscriptions.

Even so, building a long-term business model required more work. With Piano’s help, the company began tracking and segmenting users by visit frequency, which became a baseline predictor for developing future engagement, registration, and subscription campaigns. The team also began closely monitoring the stories that drove the most subscriptions—and unsurprisingly found that users gravitated toward content that affected them most. The success of its travel news section, for example, initially seemed like an anomaly. The team later discovered that its system classified transportation and infrastructure stories as “travel.”

The takeaway:

Meet your users where they are.

These efforts paid off—and proved that readers are willing to pay for quality content if it is relevant to their needs and interests. The publisher has seen a 40 percent year-over-year increase in digital subscriptions, which now account for 35 percent of the publication’s total readership.

The legal publication using free trials to connect with its community

The challenge:

This publication, helmed by a former U.S. attorney, examines today’s politics and news through the lens of the law. The team sought to monetize audience engagement by offering premium content—including a new podcast, detailed emails, and bonus content—in an ad-free environment.

Despite the fact that this audience doubles as a close-knit, highly engaged community, the publisher knew that the fast-paced news cycle and unpredictable audience interest meant they had to act fast, lest the opportunity to monetize their content pass them by.

The solution:

The company integrated Piano Composer, ID, and VX into the publication’s WordPress-based platform and launched its new member-exclusive content. The publisher offered its users a 14-day free trial of its paid content, allowing interested users to create credentials and digital wallets.

The takeaway:

Emphasize your strengths.

At the core of the company’s paid products? Community and engagement—which is precisely what its free trial program emphasized. In the first 90 days, more than 15,000 paid users signed up, with 88 percent of free trial users converting into paid subscribers when the 14-day trial period ended.

Piano sets publishers up for success—no matter the circumstances

Every publisher faces its own unique set of challenges.

Whether that’s a counterintuitive user experience or an outdated outreach strategy, publishers can rest assured that developing the right strategy can tackle these challenges and pay long-term dividends. With Piano’s transformative algorithms and data tools, sustainable growth is within reach—as are the reader connections that drive it.

Interested in finding out how to optimize your operations and boost revenue? Contact us today to discover how your organization can better understand and activate your user data

Piano empowers organizations to understand and influence customer behavior. By unifying customer data, analyzing behavior metrics, and creating personalized customer journeys, Piano helps brands launch campaigns and products faster, strengthen customer engagement, and drive personalization at scale—all on a single platform.