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

Five on Friday: Subscription Apps, Retention Tips and Bookazines

Featuring Sensor Tower, Mather Economics and Meredith Corporation

Subscription apps, retention tips and bookazines are featured in this week’s edition of Five on Friday. Sensor Tower shares the top 10 highest-grossing subscription apps of 2020, magazines diversify revenue through bookazines, and Mather Economics offers four ways to improve subscriber retention. Also, credit bureau Equifax purchases fraud protection company Kount, and What’s New in Publishing shares the top 10 news subscription sites in the world.

Streaming and dating apps are highest-grossing subscription apps for 2020

Streaming video and audio services and dating apps were among the top 10 highest grossing subscription apps in 2020, says Sensor Tower in a new report. Last year, the top 100 subscription apps in the App Store generated $10.3 billion globally, a 32% increase over 2019 revenue of $7.8 billion. The top 100 grossing subscription apps in the Google Play Store generated $2.7 billion globally, a 42% increase over 2019 revenue of $1.9 billion.

Here are the top 10 subscription apps for 2020, according to Sensor Tower:

Sensor Tower analyzes data for subscription apps from 2020.
Sensor Tower analyzes data for subscription apps from 2020. Image courtesy of Sensor Tower.

Overall, in the U.S., the App Store generated $4.5 billion on the top 100 non-gaming subscription apps, a 25% increase over 2019, compared to $1.4 billion generated by non-gaming subscription apps downloaded from the Google Play Store, a 40% increase over the prior year.

YouTube was the clear winner for 2020, grossing $991.7 million globally and $562 million in the U.S. It was also the highest grossing app in terms of overall revenue and in the App Store. In the Google Play Store, Google 1 was the top grossing app with $445 million in revenue globally and $255.7 million in revenue in the U.S.

Magazines diversify revenue with bookazines

While waiting in the grocery store checkout line, have you ever noticed the glossy-covered, beautifully illustrated TIME magazines dedicated to a single topic like the British royal family, World War II, John Lennon, or some other popular topic? They are thicker than magazines, but slimmer than books and worthy of collecting. Typically ranging in price from $10 to $20, the in-depth magazines are ad-free and are sometimes referred to as “bookazines.” This single-topic bookazine format is growing in popularity, and magazine publishers are using the trend to diversify their revenue.

According to CNN, Meredith Corporation reported a $3 million increase in newsstand revenue for the period ending December 31, 2020 – the organization’s Q2 FY2021). The media organization specifically noted that bookazines contributed to the increase in newsstand revenue. Doug Olson, president and general manager, of Meredith Magazines said the format is a very profitable business. In 2020, Meredith released 331 issues with sales.

“Despite the challenging environment, which continues to impact certain retail channels including airports and bookstores, we saw opportunities based on current events and published more special interest titles compared to the prior-year period,” said Jason M. Frierott, chief financial officer for Meredith Corp. on the second quarter fiscal year 2021 earnings call.

Image courtesy of PEOPLE Royals.

Because of the immense interest in the British royal family, Meredith is taking advantage of their popularity by launching a quarterly publication called PEOPLE Royals which will debut in March.

“PEOPLE has reported on the royals since its debut in 1974,” says Dan Wakeford, Editor-in-Chief, PEOPLE. “We felt it was only natural to launch a stand-alone beautifully crafted quarterly magazine that will inspire and entertain with deep stories and lush photography.”

“It’s an intentional purchase,” said Doug Olson of Meredith Magazines. “We may catch [readers buying them] as an impulse at retail…but really this is an expensive product that we’re very passionate about. There’s a lot of talk about digital paywalls, but this is the original content paywall.”

Other publishers that are known for the bookazine formats as well include TIME, Hearst and Conde Nast.

By creating bookazines, publishers have the opportunity to take a deep dive into topics that interest they’re readers whether they are sports teams, celebrities, home organization or politics. They are more expensive to produce, but they are not reliant on advertising which makes this an alternative source of revenue to subscriptions and ad revenue.

Bookazines, particularly those with a regular frequency like PEOPLE Royals, have the potential to become subscription based. Until then, we’ll have to find them at our favorite newsstand or bookstore.

Mather Economics: 4 ways to improve subscriber retention

In a February 9, 2021 blog post by Mather Economics, Matt Lindsay, president, and Arvid Tchivzehl, managing director of digital services, share “Four Ways to Strengthen Your Retention Strategy.” Their tips are based on four categories of subscriber motivation: content, community, passion for journalism, and pricing. Here is a brief summary of their tips.

  1. Content. According to Mather Economics, about 25% of a publisher’s digital customers are driven by content. One of the best ways to retain this type of subscriber is to send emails with links to articles in their primary areas of interest. This helps to deepen the relationship between the subscriber and publisher.
  2. Community. Mather says that community-minded readers often convert to paid digital subscribers when they hit a paywall, or they read the media organization’s print product. About 50% of digital subscribers fall into this category. Mather suggests creating campaigns centered around local news and community events. Newsletters, which appeal to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike, are a good tool for this.
  3. Contributions. According to Mather, 10% to 15% of digital subscribers do not engage with a publishers’ digital product, but they continue to pay for the product. These readers often see the value of journalism and sometimes make financial contributions in addition to their subscription. This further solidifies their commitment to the media outlet while providing incremental revenue to publishers.
  4. Cost. About 10% of a publishers’ subscribers are driven by price. They may have been targeted through a direct email campaign or received an introductory rate from another offer. They sometimes stop and restart their subscriptions based on price, and may even contact Customer Service to discuss price. Publishers can retain these subscribers through targeted stop-save efforts.

For the full post, including graphs, visit

Mather Economics shares four ways to improve subscriber retention.
Mather Economics shares four ways to improve subscriber retention. Image: Bigstock Photos

Equifax buys Kount for $640 million, helping businesses to fight fraud

Remember the 2017 Equifax data breach that had the potential to affect 143 million Americans? So does Equifax. That is likely one reason that Equifax has acquired Kount, an artificial intelligence-driven fraud prevention and digital identity solutions provider. The plan to acquire Kount was announced in January, and the $640 million deal has now closed.

“COVID-19 has driven customer interactions online in record numbers. As digital transformation accelerates, the risk of online fraud has also multiplied in a way that we believe will permanently alter the online landscape,” said Mark W. Begor, Equifax CEO, in a February 11, 2021 news release.

“The combination of Kount solutions with Equifax differentiated data assets and cloud capabilities will enable us to quickly take advantage of new fraud prevention and digital identity offerings to deliver for our customers and drive Equifax growth. Our strong 2020 financial performance and balance sheet allowed Equifax to reinvest our outperformance in Kount while continuing to look for attractive acquisitions to strengthen our data assets and solutions,” Begor added.

Kount CEO Bradley Wiskirchen will join Equifax and serve as senior vice president and general manager of a new Equifax USIS division based out of Boise, Idaho.

“By joining Equifax, Kount is teaming up with a trusted brand with a large global presence, enabling us to further accelerate growth, innovation and fraud protection across the entire customer journey,” said Wiskirchen. “We are excited for how this new combination will elevate digital experiences and identity trust by offering Kount’s industry-leading solutions alongside an expansive set of Equifax data, analytics and products.”

The acquisition will help Equifax expand its global footprint in digital identity and fraud solutions which will better support businesses in fighting fraud. Now that the deal has been finalized, Equifax will have the ability to use the Kount Identity Trust Global Network, a risk-based authentication platform.

“As digital migration accelerates, managing authentication and online fraud while optimizing the consumer’s experience has become one of our customers’ top challenges,” Begor said. “The acquisition of Kount will expand Equifax’s differentiated data assets to bring global businesses the information and solutions they need to establish identity trust online.

Together, Equifax and AI-powered Kount will help businesses fight digital fraud.
Together, Equifax and AI-powered Kount will help businesses fight digital fraud. Image courtesy of Equifax.

10 Most Popular Subscription News Websites in the World

In a recent article, What’s New in Publishing shared the “100K” club, the most popular news websites in the world who have attracted more than 100,000 subscribers. Though two dozen websites have made the list, we don’t want to spoil all the fun. Here are 10. Read the rest of the list at  

  1. The New York Times – 6.1 million subscribers
  2. The Washington Post – 3 million subscribers
  3. The Wall Street Journal – 2.4 million subscribers
  4. Gannett (USA Today and hundreds of local newspapers) – 1 million
  5. The Athletic (a specialty sports news site) – 1 million
  6. Financial Times – 945,000
  7. The Guardian – 900,000
  8. The Economist – 796,000 (digital subscribers but not digital-only)
  9. News Corp Australia – 685,000
  10. Barron’s – 458,000

I subscribe to #1, #2 and #17 on this list. How about you? Are any of these your go to digital news resources?

Top 10 subscription news sites in the world
Image: Bigstock Photos

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