I stared at the chart projected on the screen. The trend was unmistakable.
Subscriptions for the newspaper I was working for were dropping like a stone. So were revenues. And it was the same story in every major paper.
The Guardian was losing £1 million — a week! Across the pond, American newspapers had shed 40% of their circulation and ad revenues dropped by 63% over the past decade.
The consultant who was presenting this information to our senior journalists tried to sound optimistic, but the conclusion was unavoidable.
As Internet use and digitalisation went up, newspaper ad revenue and print subscriptions went down.
Fewer people were grabbing papers at the newsstand, and practically everyone looked for free news on their phones and computers. And newspapers had no idea how to get people to pay for this free content. Paywalls didn’t work.
Everyone recognised that journalism was dying.
The trend was becoming more and more obvious to me, and eventually made the decision to hang up my “Press” badge much easier. I knew that if the future of newspapers was uncertain, so was my career.
I moved over to Internet marketing and begun developing sales funnels – a new technique (back then) to help companies bring in new business online.
The process is simple. We entice good leads to a company’s website by offering valuable free content (in industry jargon, a ‘lead magnet’). Then we get as many of these leads as possible to upgrade to a paid service – first a small one, then a large one. Finally, we optimise the whole funnel, trying to bring in more leads, and get more of them to pay at every stage.
I was wrong, of course.
Newspapers didn’t die. They found a way to save themselves.
Recently I came across a fascinating piece in The Economist explaining exactly how they did it.
The newspapers also use free content to bring in traffic. In their case, they tease readers by gifting a few free online articles a month – or showing them just the beginning of an article.
But if the readers want more, they are asked to pay up. Normally, they are first offered a very nominal subscription fee (often just £1-£2 or 99 cents) for a month’s worth of free content.
The newspapers continue delivering value, building trust and loyalty along the way. When renewal comes up for a slightly larger amount, many readers are more than happy to pay.
As a result of this technique, newspapers are finally making a comeback. Granted, online has become much more important than print, but they’re finally seeing steady growth.
Optimising this sales funnel — figuring out how to draw more people to the newspaper site, and getting more people to pay at every stage — is now crucial.
“The job of funnel mathematician did not exist at newspapers six years ago,” says The Economist. “Now it is one of the most important functions a digital site has.”
It feels a little ironic that all along, the perfect job for me was in newspapers — just not in the newsroom!
But there’s a huge takeaway here, for you too.
Sales funnels have incredible value for all companies. No matter what industry you’re in, they are the key to making money online. The process is the same.
They can even take what seems like a sinking ship, and turn it into a modernised sailing vessel that can carry a pretty profit.
Have you tapped into the power of funnels, yet? If you’re ready to put in place for your company the same process which saved The Times, The Telegraph and The New York Times, then download our sales funnel guide here.
Miriam Shaviv is director of content at Brainstorm Digital, which helps companies generate enquiries and sales over email. Check out Inbox Express, our library of email templates to turn your email subscribers into paying clients. And get a sneak preview of some of the templates here.