NEW YORK CITY INNOVATION MISSION This is the consummate Digital Subscriptions / Consumer Revenue Innovation Mission that is tailor-built for media leaders who are building subscription businesses and diversifying their revenue with consumers.

3 quotes we'll remember from our membership puzzle project visit

Jay Rosen, Associate Professor and Director, Studio 20, speaks with the IM group on Wednesday.

The New York City Innovation Mission wrapped up its visits on Wednesday with a conversation with Jay Rosen, Associate Professor and Director, Studio 20.

Rosen spoke about the NYU Membership Puzzle Project, an important initiative leading research on what’s working in membership models among media companies today.

Here are three quotes from Rosen we’ll remember from the visit:

"Sites successful with membership are relentless in testing different ways to engage with audience."
"We found that if you have an active newsletter subscriber base to start from that was perfect launching pad to find members."
"There are lots of portals for participation in membership that people want to be there that they may not ever use."

You can learn more about the Membership Puzzle Project here.

how The Street invests in tech to drive subscriptions

The Street publishes a suite of investment and stock-trading digital-only publications and newsletters with a free and paid subscription offerings. In total 70 percent of revenue for The Street comes from subscriptions.

Wade Anderson presents information on tech tools used to improve acquisition and retention.

The Street shifted to focus on reaching a core audience, resulting in a drop in traffic but a significant increase in engagement and higher conversion rates. Technology investments for business needs such as subscriber acquisition, retention and data management have moved the needle toward more consumer revenue for The Street.

Tech investments results:

  • 160% improvement in website channel conversion YoY
  • 56% YoY increase in new orders
  • New orders from email increased 95% YoY
  • Email bookings increased 118% YoY
  • Improved average renewal rate by more than 200 bps
  • Improved average renewal price by 14%

The company built models that looks at user engagement and behaviors, such as site visits, newsletter opens and if the subscriber contacted customer service, to determine propensity to renew or churn. Based on this data, the tool calculates custom renewal pricing per subscriber. With better data, The Street was also able to increase some price points without drops in subscription renewals.


Former Chartbeat founder Tony Haile is building a new media experience that gives consumers paid access to an ad-free version of a wide network of publishers, with the revenue shared with participating media.

Innovation Mission attendees got the opportunity to hear from Haile this week. Here are some highlights told through slides:

First, a little about what Scroll is.

This slide pretty clearly shows the difference between a Scroll page and a standard page.

This gives you a good sense of what Scroll looks like in action.

This is what the payment plan looks like with some explanation on what the attention pool is all about.


Marc Medici, EVP and CMO for Hearst speaks with the Innovation Mission group on Tuesday morning.

Hearst sees audience development and digital subscriptions as critical paths to future success. The Innovation Mission spent time with Hearst today to learn about its strategy for growing consumer revenue across its newspaper group.

Marc Medici, EVP and CMO for Hearst shared their strategy and lead and in-depth discussion with attendees.

Here are a few interesting things we learned:

The foundation of customer excellence

The foundation of customer excellence and retention at Hearst:

1. Engagement

2. Tenure

3. Service

4. Payment type

5. Price

A few numbers to know

3: For retention, Hearst aims for 3 engagements per week. Any less is high risk for churn.

30: Since engagement is #1 indicator for retention, Hearst focused on improving UX and saw 30% > in daily subscriber visits YoY.

About data and communication

Unifying data infrastructure across properties and eliminating duplicative technologies has been a priority for Hearst.

Hearst is identifying all communication channels with consumers to become more consumer centric, especially in retention and customer service related to subscriptions.

Mark Medici on the record

“Engagement with digital is our printing press of the future. You wouldn’t not invest in the printing press on a day-in, day-out basis."

"We need to demystify technology expense and resources so leaders have more respect for the work being done. We would never say 'we don’t need all these people working here' about your printing press.”

The numbers that tell the story of WSJ'S digital subscription strategy

John Buckley, VP Subscriptions and Media at The Wall Street Journal speaks with IM attendees today.

One of the highlights of Tuesday’s Innovation Mission was a visit to The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ has built an industry reputation for pioneering ideas and strategies in the digital subscription space. During the visit, attendees learned how The Journal continues to innovate and were introduced to the idea of “propensity modeling” to pinpoint likely customers.

Here are a few numbers that jumped out:


WSJ built a consumer-focused propensity modeling based on 65 different attributes, such as visit frequency and ZIP code. When implemented there were 4x as many on-site subscriber conversions. WSJ’s dynamic paywall is based on propensity to buy, applying machine learning technology to lock or unlock content based on the user.


When the user is unknown, as many attributes as possible are gathered via cookie to create a lookalike propensity model. WSJ spends money to obtain non-subscribers who have visited the site 5 times in the past 4 weeks. This audience subset is 125% more likely to subscribe than less frequent visitors.


For retention WSJ evaluates active days and spends to drive those users back to the site and encourage engagement. The subscriber journey is within the first 100 days, since after that time the likelihood to subscribe drops 3x.

And a few things about media buys

After moving media buys in-house, WSJ had complete access to user data and could make better decisions on when and who to target. Media buys operate in waves across various platforms, including social sites such as Facebook and Snapchat, as well as programmatic ads on whitelisted websites. When there is not an ongoing subscription sale, budget is directed to filling the top of the marketing funnel, exposing WSJ to new audiences and building brand affinity. During sales, media budget focuses on moving more loyal readers to subscribers.

Facebook's Josh Mabry talks to Innovation Mission attendees in NYC on Monday.

Facebook seeing nice lift in conversions for publishers testing tools

Facebook continues to test new opportunities that aim to simplify and streamline subscription acquisitions for news publishers, they said during a visit with Innovation Mission attendees on Monday. Within Instant Articles, Facebook has eliminated technological friction to receiving payment for subscriptions for select publishers, they said.

The results show a 17 percent lift in subscriber conversion when compared to subscription acquisition processed through the publisher's mobile site. The goal is to roll out this feature to more local publishers using Instant Articles in the near future

Additionally, Facebook is testing features that focus on retention of subscribers, including showing subscribed users more content from the news publisher. Facebook is also exploring ways to support emerging models like membership directly on Facebook.

A few of our favorite photos from Day 1 of the Innovation Mission

Five reasons we're charged up for this week's Innovation Mission

This week is all about subscriptions, subscriptions, subscriptions.

The Local Media Association’s New York Innovation Mission focused on digital subscriptions and consumer revenue kicks off on Monday in the Big Apple.

We’ll be showcasing takeaways from each of the visits throughout the week, but before that, here are five things we’re excited about this week:

The Wall Street Journal “propensity modeling:" The Journal has been a leader and industry pioneer in digital subscriptions for years and on this visit we’ll learn how they continue to innovate, including introducing “propensity modeling” to pinpoint likely customers. We’ll also learn about their acquisition strategies for growing potential subscribers at both the top and middle of the conversion funnel. Read our profile on their digital subscription efforts.

Will an ad-free product work? Attendees will visit with former Chartbeat founder Tony Haile who is building a new media experience that gives consumers paid access to an ad-free version of a wide network of publishers through his company Scroll. The model provides a revenue share with participating media. Big media companies like Gannett, Slate, Business Insider and others are testing Scroll. Read our profile on Scroll.

What’s happening with Facebook’s Accelerator? The Local News Subscriptions Accelerator is being conducted with 14 local media companies. And the results are eye-popping. We’ll see those results and find out what is happening with subscription offers within Instant Articles and a Membership Accelerator. Read our profile on Facebook’s subscription work.

A financial niche in subscriptions? The Street is investing heavily in a consumer revenue model, with a variety of stock-trading subscriptions and newsletters focused on financial services. Attendees will learn how to build subscription models in specific content verticals.

Membership models that are working: The Membership Puzzle Project at NYU will provide attendees with a look at models being deployed by media companies. This will be a great toolkit for those who want to learn about best practices for launching and scaling.

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