3 Takeaways on Medill’s Subscriber Data Analysis

As local news outlets find their advertising model faltering, earning revenue from readers has emerged as a more promising path to sustainability. That’s why a Northwestern University study takes a new approach: Instead of focusing on the page-view metrics common in an ad-based model, this research tracks what keeps subscribers paying.

The study, part of the Medill Local News Initiative at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, has crunched 13 terabytes of data from the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Indianapolis Star.

The findings:

  • Keep them coming: A regular reader habit is paramount for retaining digital subscribers.
  • Keep it local: News organizations must pick topics that they can “own.” They can’t be ordinary.
  • Serve the skimmers: Becoming valuable to subscribers doesn’t necessarily mean taking up a lot of their time. In fact, readers who consumed a lot of stories and read them deeply were not more likely to remain subscribers. It appears that readers will pay for a product that delivers news efficiently—for example, a summary just like this one.

The research was conducted by Medill’s Spiegel Research Center. Read more here.

About the project

What Drives People to Pay for Local Journalism

Medill’s Spiegel Research Center (SRC), a leader in consumer and audience-based research that drives financial outcomes, is analyzing many terabytes of anonymous data about reader behavior and customer motivation at three Learning Labs – the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Indianapolis Star. The goal: Identify what content and behaviors drive consumers to engage with and pay for local news.

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