Benchmarks for digital subscription paywalls

Benchmarks for digital subscriptions

What are the benchmarks for digital subs and paywalls? As more specialist consumer and B2B publishers set up registration and paid digital subscriptions, how do they measure how well they are converting casual readers to subscribers? How are benchmarks for consumer specialist, B2B and professional publications different to those for news media?

I have collated benchmarks from a number of specialist publishers for each stage of the registration and subscription journey. Of course, each market is subtly different, but at least this provides a guide as to whether your site is performing as well as it could.

Converting free visitors to registration

Publishers need to keep some content completely free to view – for example for visitors arriving via search or social media. And sponsored content from advertisers may be intended to reach as large an audience as possible. If your business model is more ad driven you may need to keep more of your content outside a registration wall.

However, all publishers are keen to encourage registration, and an e-newsletter may not be sufficient incentive for a reader to submit an email address. Many publishers have metered access for their higher value or original content to encourage returning visitors to register free of charge to gain a higher allowance.

Conversion of free visitors to registration is a key measure. Our survey showed that a typical conversion rate is between 0.5% to 2% per month. At 1% per month, if you had 10,000 free visitors, that would mean 100 new registrations per month. Very specialist publications with super niche content can do better than this – one B2B publisher achieved 6% conversion to registration per month.

Meters for free registered readers

Registration allows you to send targeted newsletters to readers, prompting them to come to the site more frequently. Some publishers allow registered readers unlimited access to registered articles to support their ad model. But this can miss an opportunity to convert registered readers to paying subscribers. In our survey registered users viewed between 3-12 articles a month. Those B2B publishers with meters typically set quite a tight limit – between 2 to 6 articles a month. Some platforms (eg Piano) show readers how many more “free” articles they have left before they hit the paywall.

Registration also means you can track which are the most popular articles for registered readers and segment your reader base by behaviour or demographics.

Converting registered readers to paid

The “stop rate” is defined as the proportion of registered readers who hit a paywall. If your meter is so generous that none of your registered users hit the paywall, you will not convert many to paid subs. Only a minority of publishers measure stop rate, but those who do target at least 5%. By definition only your most active readers, who are most likely to pay to subscribe, will get as far as a paywall.

In our benchmarking, the best performers convert 1% of their registered base to paid subs per month. This may not seem like much, but if you have 10,000 registered users and convert 100 to subs per month then by the end of a year you have 1200 new subscribers.

Most publishers send out email newsletters to registered users with a selection of articles. Open rates are typically 20-25% for B2B and more like 35% for consumer specialist audiences. The intent of email newsletters is to encourage your registered users to consume more of their metered allowance and hit the paywall sooner. Tracking the types of content that caused readers to subscribe can also yield useful insights on which articles to promote.

Nurturing paid subscribers

Once you have paid subscribers, track their content preferences, and consider creating tailored newsletters to direct them to the most relevant content. Subscribers who visit regularly and engage with more content are more likely to renew. Many subscription packages are moving to monthly payment, in both consumer and B2B. This puts more pressure on publishers to ensure that subscribers feel they get value for money every month. Our benchmarking showed that churn rates ranged from 1% to 3% a month. Much higher than this and it will be hard to sustain your paid subscriber base.

Exploring corporate subs

For B2B media, analysing your individual subscriber base may uncover opportunities for corporate subs – if you have five individual subscribers at one company, a direct approach offering a 10-seat or 20-seat package can be very lucrative. And then if someone changes job, their subscription can be reallocated to a colleague.

Designing your funnel

Understand how readers will flow through your site, gradually building engagement and commitment. At each stage, from free to reg and reg to paid, it is the most active readers who convert.

Decide what content needs to sit at each stage and work out what is the highest value content that prompts a subscription. Then measure how effectively your on-site or targeted email marketing nudges your readers to a greater level of commitment.

Each market is subtly different, so take the time to learn what topics prompt conversion. And bear in mind your intended mix of commercial and reader revenue. A healthy ad market might mean you leave more content and traffic in the free registered part of your site.

The benchmarking was based on a survey of members of the Speciall Media Group, a community of 200 media leaders who discuss business models and best practice in specialist publishing. It’s free but invite only – request to join here.

If you’d like to discuss how to develop your digital subscription strategy do get in touch for a conversation over a real or virtual coffee.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has acquired, launched, built, and sold specialist media businesses in print, digital and events. She now advises niche consumer and B2B publishers on developing new products and digital revenue streams as a consultant and NED.

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