illustration of the number five, representing the five subscription business topics for this column, Five-on-Friday

Five on Friday: Paywalls, Podcasting and Publishing

Featuring USA Today, Spotify, Microsoft and HBO Max

In this week’s subscription news, USA Today launches a paywall and digital-only subscription plan, and we provide an update on Spotify’s podcast subscriptions from our earlier story this week. Also, The Lenfest Institute offers a self-guided membership course for publishers, Microsoft Teams grows to 145 million daily active users, and HBO Max will launch an ad-supported tier in June. As a bonus, we share a job opportunity a member asked us to share.

USA Today Launches Paywall and Digital-Only Subscription Plans

USA Today, a Gannett-owned print and digital publisher, launched a paywall and digital-only subscription. Poynter said USA Today made the move earlier this month, putting premium stories behind a paywall. USA Today has not made an official announcement yet, but a spokesperson said the offering is a test.

According to the website’s Subscribe page, an unlimited digital subscription is $4.99 a month for the first three months. Readers who want Monday through Friday print delivery plus unlimited digital access will pay $9.99 per month. A third option is also available. For $9.99 a month, subscribers can get an exact digital replica of the print publication. These 50% discount offers are available to new customers only, and there is no free trial available. [Note: These offers were available at the time we clicked on the Subscribe link on We clicked on it twice and got two different offers. The pricing was the same, but the first offer did not include the digital replica option.]

According to an offer we received when accessing an investigative report (see below), subscribers receive:

  • Exclusive subscriber-only content
  • Daily Briefing newsletter with the day’s top stories
  • Access on all devices
  • A digital replica of the print edition
  • Original reporting

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Source: USA Today

What we found particularly interesting is asking people why they are not ready to subscribe. Of course, they also ask for name, email and phone number, all of which are required fields. We presume that is to follow up with those respondents directly to offer them a free trial of some sort. This is a great way to get feedback about why someone doesn’t want to subscribe, so they can tweak their offers or content selection.

Source: USA Today

This move should not come as a surprise. Many of Gannett’s other media properties require subscriptions. It was only a matter of time before USA Today went that route as well. Even at full price, the price is reasonable, and it will help support Gannett operations going forward and in meeting the company’s goal of reaching 10 million subscribers in five years. In the third quarter of last year, the company had just surpassed the 1 million mark, so they have a long way to go.

Update: Spotify Officially Launches Podcast Subscription Platform

Earlier this week, we reported that Spotify would soon be launching their paid podcast subscription platform, and they would not be taking a share of revenue from creators for an unspecified period of time. When we published that story, Spotify had not announced anything officially yet. They have now, likely spurred on by Apple’s announcement last week of their podcast subscription platform.

On Tuesday, Spotify announced they were rolling out a paid subscription platform for podcasters that maximized revenue for creators and increased their reach and discoverability on the platform. The program first rolled out in the U.S. with other countries following in the months to come.

Creators can access the platform through Anchor where podcasters can manage their episodes, marking some for subscribers and publishing them to Spotify and to other platforms. Over the next two years, Spotify will not charge the creators, meaning they keep all revenue generated, except for payment transaction fees. Starting in 2023, Spotify will take a 5% revenue share for creators to use Anchor.

Source: Spotify

“More and more creators are bringing their podcasts and shows to Spotify. With 345 million monthly listeners on Spotify, there’s a massive opportunity for all of these creators to monetize their work—and we believe there needs to be a variety of options for them to choose from to do so,” Spotify said in a blog post.

“By enabling wide distribution of subscriber-only content, our aim is to help podcasters maximize their subscription audiences and grow them from their existing listener bases. Within Spotify, this content will be searchable and discoverable like any other podcast episode,” added Spotify.

Spotify also announced a collaboration with NPR where they will publish a selection of ad-free podcasts to paying subscribers. Five shows will be made available starting May 4: How I Built This with Guy RazShort WaveIt’s Been a Minute with Sam SandersCode Switch, and Planet Money.

The podcast streaming wars are on!

Source: Spotify

The Lenfest Institute Launches Self-Guided Membership Course for Publishers

Last fall, The Membership Puzzle Project teamed up with the Lenfest Institute to create The Membership Guide for publishers wanting to try the membership model. With support from the Google News Initiative, the guide is a tutorial for publishers, including best practices, common mistakes, how to choose the right engagement and revenue model, case studies and more.

There are different ways to use the guide. For those who are just getting started, they can go right to “Getting Started with Membership.” For those who are a little further along, they might jump to “Building a Membership Tech Stack.” To encourage more publishers to use the guide, they are now offering a self-guided membership course for publishers. It is essentially a drip campaign that spoon feeds lessons to subscribers at the pace of one email per week for 13 weeks.

“By the time you’re finished with the course, you will have a clear roadmap for how you can most effectively launch, grow or iterate on your membership program,” Lenfest Institute says on its website. “Each issue will walk you through strategies for how you can apply the lessons in your newsroom, offer exercises or worksheets you can utilize with your team, and highlight actionable case studies to learn from others who have tackled similar challenges.”

Learn more about the guide or subscribe to the self-guided membership course at

Image courtesy of Lenfest Institute and The Membership Puzzle Project.

Microsoft Teams Grows to 145 Million Active Daily Users

With people continuing to work remotely and needing to connect with co-workers, Microsoft Teams has become one of the tech tools of choice. In October 2020, Microsoft Teams had 115 million daily active users! That number has grown by 30 million in six months to 145 million, according to Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365 which includes Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive, Viva and other applications.

Image courtesy of Twitter

To compare this to Zoom, last April, Zoom said it had 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants, according to The Verge. The company does not reveal its user numbers in its most recent quarterly financial report for the period ended January 31, 2021. What they do say is they have approximately 467,100 customers with more than 10 employees, a 470% increase year-over-year, and 1,644 customers that contribute more than $100,000 in trailing 12 months revenue, a 156% increase year-over-year.

The bottom line: while remote work continues, we are all using some sort of communications technology to talk to our teams, whether it is Teams, Zoom or another technology solution.

Five on Friday Bonus: Job Opportunity

Digital Payments Optimization Lead for SimpliSafe Home Security


Are you fascinated with designing and optimizing customer-centric billing solutions and procedures? Do you love process improvement and automation?  Are you excited about joining a fast-growing PE-backed company to help create best-in-class billing procedures that will eliminate friction with our customers and allow for seamless sales to cash reconciliations?  Do you love cross-functional collaboration?

If the above sounds like you, we’d love to hear from you!


The mission of SimpliSafe is to keep every home secure. It is our belief that being safe should be simple. SimpliSafe designs home security systems that are wireless, cellular and so user-friendly that they can be set up by anyone in minutes. In addition to our great products, SimpliSafe offers seamless 24/7 professional monitoring services, without the long-term contracts nor sky-high prices of traditional alarm companies. Simply put, we’re on an industry-disruptive mission to keep every home safe.

Founded in 2006, SimpliSafe is based in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts. In 2014, we were ranked in The Inc. 500 as one of the fastest growing private companies in the US with a 3,000%+ three-year growth rate. In July 2020, CNET named SimpliSafe the best do-it-yourself alarm system. Fast forward to today, we protect over 2 million Americans and that number is fast rising. SimpliSafe is ushering in a new era, one where anyone anywhere can have a security system that is not only simple but also on the cutting edge.


The Digital Payments Optimization Lead will report to the Global Controller and fill a key role on the Finance team at SimpliSafe. You will partner cross-functionally to help design, implement and optimize billing processes for SimpliSafe’s customer base to ensure a seamless billing experience.  You will develop and prepare reports on billing performance and establish KPIs that will help drive improvement and provide key stakeholders with appropriate levels of visibility.  You will also play an integral role in the development and implementation of a third party billing and revenue recognition technology application.  As SimpliSafe’s Digital Payments Optimization Lead, you will be the go-to-person and resident expert for all billing-related topics.


  • Work cross-functionally to develop, drive and evolve our payment strategy, including billing, fraud, risk, returns and bad debt
  • Identify and coordinate payment optimization initiatives with internal and external partners
  • Partner with internal stakeholders to thoughtfully architect and implement new payment solutions as new business requirements arise
  • Monitor billing platform performance, and partner with internal and external resources to detect and troubleshoot production anomalies, errors and issues
  • Participate in the design and implementation of a third party subscription billing system
  • Identify and develop fraud and risk mitigation factors across all lines of business and sales channels
  • Optimize the refund and chargebacks processes
  • Build and maintain relationships with business partners, including card processors, third party billing platforms and consultants
  • Assist in developing, monitoring and reporting on key metrics
  • Help build out payments capabilities to expand internationally

Read more about the necessary qualifications and apply here.

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