Newspapers can’t rely on subscriptions

How do you consume your dose of daily news?

In the last decade, the evolution of the Internet, mobile phones and tablets have completely changed the way we consume news.

It should come as no surprise that traditional newspapers are suffering. In 2009, newspapers made $27.6 billion in total revenue compared to $49 billion in 2005 — meaning that in just four years, the industry’s revenue declined by nearly a half. In 2011, Pew Research Center estimated that newspaper newsrooms cut their staff by 30.

Max Rubin | Daily Trojan

Newspapers have responded by not only beefing up their digital offerings in the online, mobile and tablet space, but by exploring alternative revenue models, primarily through subscription-based services.

Ditch that expensive drink at Seeds Marketplace for a monthly news subscription and see how much you get out of it. You’d not only be helping the newspaper industry, but you’d be keeping yourself more informed and educated in the process.

Can’t pay up? While you can still read a limited number of articles free of charge, a significant percentage of the newspapers’ articles are limited to paid subscribers. These are called “pay walls,” where content is specifically blocked unless you pay a monthly or yearly fee.

While online subscription pay walls are tough on consumers accustomed to free news, the newspaper industry must experiment to stay afloat. Meanwhile, newspapers should explore other strategies to make their products more appealing — particularly to attract students and young adults.

Having joined the fray last month, the Los Angeles Times is one of the latest newspapers to implement an online subscription model by offering a one-month trial at 99 cents and a $3.99-a-week plan.

Newspapers clearly recognize that they need to act fast to combat the decline in revenues from print media. The decline in revenue, however, isn’t solely because of a drop in readership. A decline in revenue from traditional classified ads, plus the lack of growth from online ads, are both pivotal sources of the problem as well.

As a result, implementing subscription models are one way that newspapers are adjusting their business models to stay afloat.

The New York Times’ subscription program has seen the most success, with close to 500,000 digital subscribers. Alongside this growth in digital subscriptions, the newspaper’s home delivery circulation numbers have also increased. Some analysts attribute this growth to consumers’ willingness to pay for home delivery because it comes with unlimited digital access.

But newspapers must look to other ways of gaining readership. The New York Times is using creative strategies to try and tap into the college market. The publication recently partnered with USC to offer free newspapers on campus with the hope that it will increase readership and gauge student interest in world news.

Since many students are deterred by subscription fees, newspapers should also consider offering special plans tailored to students’ needs. For example, they could offer discounts to students who have legitimate college email addresses, or allow users to tailor their subscriptions based on the topics they are most interested in.

What’s evident is that a newspaper’s survival will not rely solely on a subscription model. After all, what has truly made The New York Times so successful is its commitment to top-quality journalism, great website and app design, mobile capabilities and stellar interactive features.

If newspapers can successfully integrate quality journalism with technology, they will have an easier time monetizing their business models and adapting to the changing media landscape.

Hopefully, students can shake off their indifference and recognize that top-notch, accurate journalism can’t be replaced by their Facebook news feeds.


Jasmine Ako is a senior majoring in business administration.