Google News Initiative

GNI Subscriptions lab: invigorating the business model for news

Editor’s note: As part of the Google News Initiative, we work with news publishing partners across the world on efforts to help the industry thrive in the digital age. In partnership with FTI Consulting and the Local Media Association (LMA), today we’re launching the GNI Subscriptions Lab for eight publishers in the U.S. and Canada to help them transform their approach to digital subscriptions. A similar effort will launch in Latin America next month. The following post is by the LMA’s President, Nancy Lane.

 While the largest national news publishers have put digital subscriptions at the center of their business transformation, we’ve yet to see a clear template for publications’ success at the metro and local levels. Finding a growth path forward for subscriptions is critical to the very survival of hundreds of newspapers in markets large and small. One local publisher told me that his organization’s existence is being threatened like never before, and that seeing his community lose the kind of journalism they produce is not an option. Another said if we as an industry can’t figure out the digital subscription model, then the end could be near. 

That’s why the Local Media Association teamed up with the Google News Initiative and FTI Consulting to create the GNI Subscriptions Lab. The goal of the lab is to develop a sustainable and thriving business model for newspapers across North America—powered by digital subscriptions.

To get there, we’ve designed a six-month long experience that will address every step of the digital subscriptions process. Eight publishers will be chosen to participate, representing a cross-section of the local news industry, with a mix of both chain-owned and independent community and metro titles. Those chosen must be dedicated to figuring out a subscriptions strategy with buy-in and direct involvement from the highest executives (including the CEO) in their respective companies. They’ll come with open minds, a willingness to experiment and a community spirit built around sharing what they learn along the way. We’re looking to help these eight publishers make significant leaps forward with their subscription businesses, the kinds of leaps that can transform these organizations.

The publishers will undergo a mix of quantitative and qualitative market research, looking at existing and potential reader segments in an attempt to better understand the addressable market, readers willingness to pay and more.  

FTI Consulting will perform a full diagnostic evaluation of each participating publisher across multiple dimensions—including people, process, technology, marketing and content—to benchmark current performance, identify short-term optimization opportunities and recommend longer-term transformation roadmaps. This includes providing a detailed scorecard to show how each publisher sizes up, and a dashboard for measuring ongoing progress.  

During the entire process, the publishers will have support from Google teams that bring expertise in data, technology, product, subscriptions and more. Our businesses will be challenged in new and exciting ways. To have our subscriptions strategies looked at from multiple angles, with all of the powerful tools and resources that they bring, is exactly what’s needed given what’s at stake.

As we see results, we’ll share learnings with the industry at large—including at the LMA-LMC Elevate Summit in September—through experiential learning, playbooks, conference workshops and more. The future of community journalism is indeed at stake. I can’t think of a project more important at this moment in time. This is a powerful group effort, and our expectations are high.