Five on Friday: Subscriber Goals, Newsletter Tips and the Apple Tax

Featuring Zuora, The Seattle Times, Hubspot and The New York Times Company

In this week’s edition of Five on Friday, Zuora shares how it helped The Seattle Times meet its digital subscriber goals, Hubspot shares three things not to include in your next email newsletter, and Apple shows it isn’t the only company with a 30% Apple tax. Also this week, The New York Times Company names Meredith Kopit Levien as Mark Thompson’s successor as President and CEO, and Forbes reports that retail subscription sales grew 145% between March and May 2020!

The Seattle Times Grows Digital Subscribers by 35% Between March and June 2020

This spring, The Seattle Times grew to more than 65,000 digital subscribers, a 35% increase between March and June 2020. To achieve this, the 124-year-old newspaper company needed good customer data, so it moved away from a legacy platform to Zuora, a popular subscription management platform. Curtis Huber, senior director of circulation and audience at The Seattle Times, talked about their challenges and the transition to a new system.

“Audience-centric media companies have to think and act like eCommerce companies,” Huber said. “It’s way beyond just a self-service portal for bills, and payments, and registering complaints. The entire subscription experience has to be intuitive and easy to navigate.”

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By implementing the Zuora platform, The Seattle Times was able to make better business decisions, including editorial choices based on reader engagement, helping the company grow its digital subscriber base.

“We have data in Zuora’s digital platform that we didn’t have in print. Now we can monetize based on user experience, and our technology investment is directly targeted toward growing our audience,” Huber said.

This time period was also when the original wave of the pandemic hit the Seattle area, so it is likely that part of this spike was due to an increased need for accurate information. However, using Zuora, The Seattle Times was able to leverage the data gleaned from customer behavior to make content decisions.

The Seattle Times, which is a locally owned and operated, used to be one of two daily newspapers serving the greater Seattle region. It became the only print newspaper when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went to an online-only format in March 2009. The Seattle Times is now available online, in print and via an iOS app. They offer three print and digital subscription options.

The Seattle Times, the largest newspaper in Washington state, offers print and digital subscription options.
The Seattle Times, the largest newspaper in Washington state, offers print and digital subscription options.

3 Things Not to Include in Your Next Newsletter

Newsletter marketing is a great way for subscription companies to onboard customers, keep them updated on new products and features, and provide upsell opportunities. In a Hubspot blog, Brittany Leaning shares “10 Things to Nix in Your Next Email Newsletter.” Here are three things to avoid!

  1. Boring, generic subject lines. Your subject line needs to be engaging, interesting and unique to entice a reader to open it. Make sure your subject line is specific. For example, if you are a streaming video service, consider a subject line like: “10 movies you don’t want to miss” rather than “August newsletter.” Which one would you open?
  2. Multiple topics and calls to action. Some newsletters have so much going on in them – multiple topics, calls to action, external links – that it can be overwhelming. Keep your newsletters simple to ensure that your readers open your newsletter instead of sending it to their trash folder.
  3. Being too wordy. Just like #2, people will not read a long newsletter. Hit a key topic with a call to action, and call it good. Otherwise, you may alienate your readers, and push them to unsubscribe.

Looking at the flip side of what you should do, keep your newsletters short, sweet and relevant to your audience. For more newsletter tactics to avoid, read Leaning’s original blog post on Hubspot.

Meredith Kopit Levien to Succeed Mark Thompson as Next President-CEO of The New York Times Company

On September 8, Mark Thompson will step down as president and CEO of The New York Times Company after eight years. The company announced Wednesday that chief operating officer Meredith Kopit Levien will succeed Thompson, taking the president-CEO position and joining the board of directors. Kopit Levien was selected unanimously by the board as part of the company’s succession planning.

Meredith Kopit Levien will succeed Mark Thompson as the next president and CEO of The New York Times Company, effective September 8, 2020.
Meredith Kopit Levien will be the next president-CEO of The New York Times Company, succeeding Mark Thompson, effective September 8, 2020.

“She has successfully led much of our company’s most important work — from reimagining our advertising business to driving our historic subscription growth to fostering a culture of product innovation. Meredith possesses a deep understanding of The Times’s business and a passion for its journalistic mission. She’s been Mark Thompson’s closest partner over the past seven years and will continue to build on his remarkable legacy,” said A. G. Sulzberger, publisher and board member.

Kopit Levien joined the Times in August 2013 as head of advertising. She was promoted in April 2015 to executive vice president and revenue officer, and then COO in June 2017. She said it would be the honor of a lifetime to lead the organization into the future.

“I see a big opportunity to expand journalism’s role in the lives of millions more people around the world, and to invest in product and technology innovation that engages our readers and grows our business. And at a time when the free press remains under pressure, The Times will continue to invest in and defend the high-quality, independent journalism on which our democracy depends,” said Kopit Levien.

Thompson, who joined The New York Times Company in 2012, is retiring from the company.

“I’ve chosen this moment to step down because we have achieved everything I set out to do when I joined The Times Company eight years ago — and because I know that in Meredith, I have an outstanding successor who is ready to lead the company on to its next chapter. I am profoundly grateful for the support I have received during my time here, from all of my colleagues, the Ochs-Sulzberger family and from the Board. Their shared commitment to the mission of The Times has enabled us to build the world’s most successful digital news subscription business, helping to sustain the independence and quality of Times journalism for the long term,” Thompson said.

“There’s nothing that makes me more proud than the fact that our newsroom is substantially larger today than when I joined. The world needs Times journalism now more than ever,” added Thompson.

Apple Commissions Study to Prove It Isn’t the Only One Taking a 30% Cut of Sales

Apple has often been accused of being the big bad tech company who charges developers and app owners an Apple tax ranging between 15% and 30% of revenue from downloads, in-app purchases and subscriptions. Many apps like those offered by Match Group (e.g., Tinder, OKCupid and Hinge), Spotify and Hey have publicly complained about the Apple tax, with some even pulling their apps out of the App Store. Companies like Spotify have also filed formal complaints with the European Commission about the Apple tax, according to Business Insider.

To put Apple in a better light as they head into next week’s antitrust hearings, Apple commissioned a study of other digital marketplaces to see where they stood, reports Protocol. The study conducted by Analysis Group reviewed 38 online marketplaces ranging from app stores to hotel and plane ticket booking sites. The study found that retailers like Amazon and Etsy have the lowest fees, while ticket resellers have the highest.

Among the highlights from the study is that the Google Play Store, Samsung Galaxy Store, Microsoft Store and the Amazon Appstore all charge the same 30% commission on sales. Video game sellers, including Xbox, PlayStation and Steam, also charge 30%. Protocol says that, while 30% may now be the norm, it is because Apple set the standard with the iTunes Music Store first and then with the App Store when it launched in 2008.

The so-called Apple tax will be among the topics of conversation on Monday, July 27 as the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appear before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee as part of an ongoing investigation of competition in the digital marketplace. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearing will be adapted to meet the circumstances. Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Tim Cook (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Sundar Pichai (Google) may appear virtually, and the hearing will be streamed live.

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, has also been asked to participate, says CNBC. The focus on Twitter is slightly different, however. Legislators are interested in hearing how the recent security breaches occurred when high profile accounts like former President Barack Obama’s account was hacked.

Retail Subscriptions Have Increased 145% During Pandemic

We have been reporting on the increase in streaming entertainment subscriptions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It makes sense that more people are subscribing to services like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ since they are homebound for the foreseeable future. According to Recurly, streaming services saw growth as high as 89.8%, education grew up to 60% and SaaS and cloud service usage increased 51%. Those numbers aren’t particularly surprising.

However, what is surprising is 145% growth in retail subscriptions between March and May. Why? Forbes contributor John Koetsier suggests it might be retail therapy. Koetsier interviewed Recurly’s Dan Burkhart who shared his own insights.

“I think there could be a little bit of a guilty pleasure in that it’s a bit of a decadent affordance to have something come to your home that you anticipate,” Burkhart said. “The anticipation provides a little bit of self-gifting twang, I think, that perhaps individuals ere craving a bit.”

The attraction may also be tied to convenience, since going out grocery shopping can be risky. Also, many retail shops and shopping centers were or are closed during the pandemic.

“The cost and friction of actually going to a store even for simple groceries is something that I know in our family we’re talking about, and we might do a rock paper scissors to see who goes to the grocery store this time,” Burkhart told Koetsier.

Subscription companies can take advantage of this trend by providing products and services to individuals, families and businesses who might not otherwise be able to purchase those items. To keep those customers coming back though, subscription companies need to provide a good experience and continue to provide value.

“Companies really need to shoulder the burden of making sure that they are continuing to deliver value in whatever it is they’re selling by way of a subscription model, in order to achieve that long term benefit,” Burkhart said.

Access the recording and the transcription of Koetsier’s and Burkhart’s conversation on Forbes.

Retail subscriptions increased 145% between March and May 2020.
Retail subscriptions increased 145% between March and May 2020. Image: Pixabay