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PR implications of rising online news subscriptions

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Digital subscriptions to online news sites have increased – a prospect that bodes well for both the media and public relations professionals. Observers credit the “Trump bump.” People subscribe to news services to read about Trump’s statements and opponents’ responses.

The trend is good news for public relations practitioners. Although Trump and his opposition are not permanent fixtures, the trend can make new readers more conditioned to paying for digital subscriptions. Publishers will enjoy stronger financial foundations from both subscriptions and advertising, enabling news sources to hire more journalists and providing PR with more opportunities.

Online Subscriptions Spike in the US

The proportion of people who subscribe to online news in the US jumped from 9% in 2016 to 16% in 2017, reveals the Reuters Institute 2017 Digital News Report.  In most other countries, by contrast, the numbers generally remained flat.

People under 35 together with those on the political left drove the increase. The finding is “a powerful corrective to the idea that young people are not prepared to pay for online media, let alone news,” the report states.

“It is too early to know whether these increases constitute a groundswell, or simply a knee-jerk reaction to a political shock,” the report states. Over a quarter of respondents (29%) said a key reason for paying for subscriptions was to “help fund journalism.”

Millennials Buy both Print and Digital Subscriptions

The number of millennials subscribing to both print and digital news publications has more than doubled since the election last year, reports Politico.

The New Yorker says its subscribers in the 18 to 34 age range increased 106 percent and the number of subscribers in the 25 to 34 age range jumped 129 percent. The Atlantic says the number of new subscribers aged 18-24 jumped 130 percent for print and digital subscriptions combined – far more than other age groups. Newspapers report a similar trend. The Wall Street Journal said it doubled its number of student subscriptions since last year.

By reading certain publications, readers can show they’re thinking deeply about an issue and demonstrate their opposition to Trump. “This is why the NPR tote bag is a big deal. This is why the New Yorker had a tote bag that was viewed as a hot commodity. News is a brand and it stands for certain types of values you want to associate yourself with and that becomes even more important in this political climate,” Stephanie Edgerly, a professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, told Politico.

The challenge for publishers will be to sustain and monetize the Trump bump. A key will be to become more sophisticated at segmenting readers, such as sports enthusiasts, snowbirds, or local news junkies, says News Media Alliance. By segmenting readers, they can target offers and premium products based on specific interests. It’s important to realize that digital-only users may not resemble other subscribers.

Publishers have also become better at marketing their product. “It’s worth knowing what’s going on,” “Support quality journalism” and “Knowledge is eye-opening” are some of their slogans.

Bottom Line: Subscriptions to news media outlets have jumped, thanks in large part to President Trump. That could present an opportunity to PR professionals. It’s important to realize that demographics of digital subscribers often differ from print subscribers, which may influence PR pitching and content creation practices.

William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.