Digital-only subscriptions to local newspapers will overtake print subscriptions by 2027 at the latest as reading habits continue to shift to digital platforms, according to a forecast published last week.
The digital dominance may happen as early as mid-2024 if online subscriptions exceed their historical growth or print shows an even steeper decline, according to Mather Economics. The consulting firm recommends newspapers develop a strategy to raise prices on digital subscriptions to make up for print losses.
About 21% of total paid subscriptions are currently digital, a yearly increase of 32%, while the remainder are print, according to data Mather has compiled from local newspapers for its quarterly subscription benchmarking report.
The problem for newspapers is they tend to charge less for their digital product than for print. The average digital subscription costs a reader $9.49 a month nationwide, compared with $29.71 a month for print. Starting subscriptions for digital also are less at $3.48 a month, compared with $16.95 for print.
Given these differences in pricing, digital subscriptions make up less than 11% of the total circulation revenue among newspapers that provided data to Mather, which is in the process of adding more information to its database to develop a more comprehensive view of the industry.
Also, digital readers tend to be less loyal than their print counterparts.
While the overall churn rate for newspapers is about 0.70% a week, digital cancellations run at 0.85% and print has 0.66%, the survey found. The print number includes readers whose subscription includes an all-access pass to a paper’s website.
Readers are more likely to stick with a newspaper they receive more frequently. After 12 months, the retention rate for subscribers is highest among people who receive a newspaper for a full week, while Saturday or Sunday readers are least loyal.
The finding suggests newspapers must find ways to encourage subscribers to make a daily habit out of reading the news or engaging them in other ways, perhaps with puzzles, quizzes and games. Supporting digital engagement typically means asking readers to sign up for a daily email newsletter or news alerts during the onboarding process. These strategies will become more predominant as digital subscriptions overtake print in the next few years.