Too Much of a Good Thing At Hearst UK

When Hearst UK launched a new subscriber special early on in the pandemic, they had no idea so many new readers would take them up on the offer. According to Charlotte Tobitt in the Press Gazette, the company saw a massive surge in new sign-ups this spring.

“The start of the first UK national lockdown in March saw Hearst’s subscription acquisitions ‘somersault’ from being up 5% year-on-year to up 233% according to consumer revenues officer Reid Holland,” Tobitt said.

In fact it was too much of a good thing, Holland explained, as publishers typically lose money on bargain-priced intros, making their profit later on in customer retention. 

“This is a very well-tested model and something most publishers, most subscription businesses do, and it works brilliantly in a normal market. But Covid of course wasn’t a normal market,” Holland notes.

When the company decided to back off their low-priced intro offer in mid-April, they were pleasantly surprised that new subscriptions continued “close to 100% up year-on-year on most titles, with revenue up more than 150%.”

For Holland, this was a clear commercial success, and testimony to the strength of the Hearst brand. (They’ve also gotten lots of affirmation for their “chicken nugget” math, a shift toward paid strategies for digital content in small, digestible bites.) 

“I think that’s clearly a commercial success for us but… what I particularly like about that story is it shows you the strength of our brands and the strength of our products, and it also feels like we helped people with a small amount of positivity at a time when things were just really tough,” Holland noted.

While they certainly couldn’t keep selling subscriptions at rock-bottom prices, their experiment showed they didn’t have to. They are also leveraging their brand into some collaborative agreements and cross-branding opportunities, and “doubling down” on direct customer relationships to boost retention and sales (first-party data, anyone?).

All things considered, it’s been a good year at Hearst, for both the brand and its growing audience.