The Irish Times – A Conversation with Cliona Mooney, Head of Subscriptions & Reader Insights

MPP Global Friday, 04 October 2019

What You’ll Learn:

The Irish Times is a 160-year-old media organisation based in Dublin, Ireland. The organisation publishes a printed newspaper six days a week, Monday to Saturday, and operates through an official website and mobile app.

Cliona Mooney, Head of Subscriptions & Reader Insights, tells us about how MPP Global’s subscriber management and billing platform, eSuite, has helped to propel The Irish Times into a new era of subscription journalism.

What was The Irish Times trying to achieve when you contacted MPP Global?

Unfortunately, over the last few years, newspaper circulation has been in decline. The Irish Times was no exception and it soon became clear that we needed to make a change to protect our future revenues, namely by diversifying our content offerings to remain relevant to our changing audience.

Specifically, we also noticed an increasing number of our readers shifting to mobile as their main access point for our content, which led us to the conclusion that a digital subscription model would be most effective for us.

While we were implementing this new model, it was important for us to maintain the regular advertising revenue and traffic level on our website, so this was a key consideration at the same time.

How is your digital subscription model set up?

We launched a metered digital subscription model in 2015. This allowed our readers to access a certain number of articles for free every week, after which point they would be asked to subscribe for access to more content.

In 2017, we extended this model by adding exclusive subscriber-only content, so we now operate a hybrid model of metered plus subscriber-only content with four key products:

  • A standard digital product which includes access to all our digital content, as well as our news archive and crossword.
  • A premium digital product which includes everything from the standard option, plus our digital e-paper.
  • A weekend pack which includes everything from the digital pack and home delivery of the printed newspaper on a Saturday.
  • A complete pack which offers everything from the digital pack and home delivery Monday-Saturday.

Another interesting proposition we’ve created is offering free subscriptions to college students, the reason for which is twofold; one is to support young people’s education in Ireland, and the second is to invest in our future subscribers. If a student takes out a subscription to our newspaper while they’re in college then they’re much more likely to take out a paid subscription when they start working.

Which types of paid content work best for your market?

In our experience and for our publication, commodity news doesn’t really work to convert readers to subscribers; that sort of content can be easily accessed elsewhere. Instead, what works for us is creating content from our known writers, including exclusive opinion pieces that readers can’t get anywhere else.

Functional and lifestyle guides also work well for us. For instance, we produced a series of articles on the financial mistakes to avoid in your thirties, which was very well received and worked well for driving subscriptions. Based on that success, we then turned it into a series of pieces on financial mistakes to avoid in your forties, fifties and sixties, and those articles worked very well to convert people into paying subscribers.

Which features and functionality do you use in eSuite to achieve your goals?

eSuite provides us with the functionality needed to set up campaigns, promotions, parameters, different currencies and gift subscriptions – all essential to a successful digital subscription model.

Our specific offering starts with the discounted one Euro proposition for the first month, after which readers become fully paying subscribers. We use eSuite to set parameters around this offer, including the length of time it runs for.

We also offer our product in different currencies, so we have storefronts for UK readers in Sterling and US readers in USD to accommodate our international readers.

eSuite’s gifting functionality has worked incredibly well for us; it enables someone to buy a subscription for a set period and price – for example, a three-month standard subscription – and gift that to a chosen recipient. The recipient then receives a redemption code they can use on our website. Gifting works especially for us around Father’s Day and Christmas and we usually see quite a significant spike of sales of gift subscriptions on Christmas Eve.

How has eSuite helped The Irish Times to reduce churn?

We tackle two different types of churn: voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary churn occurs when a user cancels their subscription because they are not using the product enough. To combat this, we have several initiatives within our customer care team which work to good effect.

Involuntary churn is more focused on payment failure, and this is where we use eSuite’s Retention & Recovery module – namely, card updater and payment failure retry.

Card updater allows us to check if a customer’s card details are due to expire, delivering an automated response on credit card expiry dates for individual users. We can then automatically update those subscribers’ details without needing to contact them, reducing our involuntary cancellation rate.

The other aspect we use is payment failure retry. If we try to collect payment for a customer’s subscription but are unsuccessful, this feature allows us to try to take the payment again over multiple following days. Usually the reason for an unsuccessful payment like this is insufficient funds available on the subscriber’s bank account, so this functionality really helps us as it continues to retry until the funds become available, meaning we eventually receive payment for that subscription and it continues as normal.

Do you have any plans to launch new services in the future?

Our current focus is to optimise and streamline our ecommerce funnel, particularly on mobile. This will involve reducing the number of information fields a subscriber is required to fill out to purchase their subscription, as well as introducing new payment methods, such as PayPal and one-click payments. The purpose of this is to reduce friction and make it as easy as possible for readers to become subscribers, which is particularly important on mobile as we try to improve digital conversion rates on subscriptions.

We’re also looking to introduce more of eSuite’s functionality into our implementation, including the self-service aspects so that our subscribers are able to manage their own accounts. This will afford us some great operational and cost efficiencies in the long-term as we continue to enhance our digital subscription model to suit our evolving subscriber base.

Read the full case study from The Irish Times below and watch the full interview with Cliona here.

Read The Irish Times Case Study