“Subscription fatigue” isn’t really a thing
If you do some simple math, then you’ll quickly realize that the pool of potential subscribers is huge.
Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
Let’s jump right into it…
“Subscription fatigue” isn’t really a thing
If you follow a specific niche or industry closely enough, you can often watch in real time as groupthink develops on a particular issue. Writers and commentators start framing the issue through a myopic, simplistic lens, and then before you know it that framing becomes conventional wisdom.
That’s what happened with the concept of “subscription fatigue.” It’s often used as a shorthand to suggest that we’re currently in a subscription bubble that’s on the verge of popping. Let me go ahead and paraphrase the argument:
Not only is every news publisher rushing to launch a digital subscription offering, but there’s also been an explosion of paid newsletters, Patreons, and other subscription-focused products within the Creator Economy. While consumers showed some early enthusiasm for content subscriptions, the market has become saturated, and new entrants face an increasingly steep hill to climb. The average consumer will subscribe to, at most, three publications: a national newspaper (e.g., The New York Times or Washington Post), a local newspaper, and some sort of niche news product that interests them. This means that a handful of winners will emerge while the rest fight over the scraps.
There are variations of this argument that pop up across industries ranging from streaming TV to SaaS, but for the purposes of this piece, I’m just focusing on news publications.
So does the logic of the above argument check out? I don’t think so. For one, people aren’t that analytical about their purchase decisions, meaning that if you put out a product that they want and they have the disposable income to buy it, then they will. In other words, if someone is addicted to your newsletter and opens every issue, then they’re not going to hesitate to subscribe when you launch a paid version just because they happen to already pay for three other outlets.
In reality, news readers exist across a spectrum. The majority are low information consumers who will subscribe to between zero and one publications. And then a small-but-meaningful portion of the population can be categorized as Super Subscribers, meaning they subscribe to upwards of 10 different outlets (I certainly fit within this category). The rest will fall somewhere in between.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it is true that the average consumer will subscribe to three publications. If you do some simple math, then you’ll quickly realize that the pool of potential subscribers is huge.
There are roughly 258 million adults in the US. If they subscribe to an average three publications, that’s 774 million individual subscriptions. If you assume that it takes about 1,000 subscriptions to equal one full-time media job, then that’s 774,000 jobs. And remember, most publishers have diversified revenue streams that include everything from advertising to events, so the actual number of media jobs is far north of that. Hell, a recent study found that YouTube alone likely contributes to 400,000 jobs just in the US.
What’s strange is that the conversation around this issue frames subscription models as if they’re this new thing. But if you were to travel to the pre-internet era of 1990, you’d find tens of thousands of subscription-funded newspapers and magazines. Somehow, most of them managed to build profitable businesses despite the healthy amount of competition.
Sure, the two eras aren’t completely analogous to each other, especially since every subscription offering today has to compete with mountains of free content. But then again, I think most of the skepticism of subscription models stems from the fact that we had this weird, decade-long buffer zone in which nearly all news content on the internet was free. It’s difficult for us to view that era for what it was: an anomaly.
Suffice it to say, I don’t think the average publisher should worry about subscription fatigue. If you put out an addictive product and your readership has disposable income, then it will subscribe. There are 1.35 billion English speakers in the world; that’s a lot of potential subscribers who are up for grabs.
Over the past several years, Google has developed a suite of tools aimed at helping media outlets to optimize their content so it reaches a bigger audience and drives more revenue.
Can solo writers monetize longform journalism?
Is it possible for an individual person to produce longform, original journalism on a frequent enough basis to monetize a Substack newsletter? I argued that it is possible with the right content production workflow. You can read my piece over here.
FASCINATING: YouTube has amassed a huge team of employees who are tasked with offering white glove consulting services to the platform's top creators. [WSJ]
Researchers analyzed 141,000 a/b headline tests to see if they could pull out some best practices that consistently produced better results. But for the most part, they couldn't predict in advance whether one headline would perform better than another. [Nieman Lab]
Lo and behold, Apple's "privacy" restrictions hurt Facebook's ad revenue while simultaneously boosting Apple's ad revenue. [Nieman Lab]
A finance journalist quit his job at Axios after only a few months to launch a Substack. [Mediaite]
Instagram doesn't pay enough to its creators. [YouTube]
There's an interesting trend in which public radio stations and other nonprofits are buying up struggling local news companies. The jury's still out on whether the strategy works. [Hot Pod]
A deep look at SmartNews, the news aggregation app that has 20 million monthly users and was valued by investors at $1 billion. [Rest of World]
Almost all of them have one thing in common: they're not owned by large newspaper chains.
Want to chat with me directly?
The best way to do so is by joining my private Facebook group. It’s my own little club of media industry veterans, and we get up to some pretty good discussions every week. Join here: [Facebook]
Do you like this newsletter?
Then you should subscribe here: