Subscription News delivered straight to your inbox.


Mainichi Newspapers Turns the Page to a Customer-Centric Subscription Model

Fritz Cambier-Unruh
Staff Writer, Subscribed

Traditional newspaper companies have been fighting upstream for decades as print readership has steadily declined, crushing advertising revenue and threatening the very viability of their business model. To thrive in the current media environment, companies like The Mainichi Newspaper Company are transitioning to digital. But running a digital media company is more than just offering content online. Mainichi Newspapers reoriented their entire business around the customer.

In Japan, the media landscape has long been ruled by the newspaper business.

With four strong national newspapers boasting large circulations, as well as more than 100 smaller local papers, it seemed as though Japanese media might be able to resist the global sea change toward online news consumption. But while the shift to digital was certainly slower in Japan than in other countries, the trend proved to be irresistible. According to the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, circulation had dropped to 37.8 million as of October 2020, a marked decline from 53.7 million in 2000.

A major impact of the shift to digital content is the decline in advertising revenue.

To make up the difference, newspapers are returning to a familiar but often neglected segment of their business: subscriptions. And while subscriptions are nothing new for the newspaper industry, the worldwide adoption of subscription business models has changed the way consumers view relationships with companies that provide goods and services via recurring payments.

The Japanese consumer has come somewhat late to the subscription model compared to other large economies.

But that is quickly changing as Japanese consumers’ appetites grow for personalized, cost-effective alternatives to access products and services with recurring fees. According to the Yano Research Institute, the Japanese subscription market, covering eight industries including fashion, restaurants and entertainment, is projected to reach ¥777.80 billion in fiscal 2021 and ¥862.35 billion in 2023. These numbers show that consumers — in Japan, as well as all across the globe — are no longer interested in products; instead they want outcomes and experiences. Companies that provide customer-centered experiences are more likely to form long-term customer relationships driven by subscriptions. And the experience of consuming the news is no different. “Our expectations now are we want everything to work like subscriptions. That demand is causing companies to say we need a shift,” said Tien Tzuo, CEO of subscription management giant Zuora. “Though the subscription business is not a new concept, the traditional model is still ‘stuck in the product.’” Which is to say that many newspaper companies are still too focused on their product — the news — instead of their customers.

The challenge for The Mainichi Newspaper Co. was how to build a personalized news experience focused on enticing readers to become subscribers who were truly in a relationship with the company.

Mainichi Newspapers was an early mover online. The company began providing digital content in addition to its print media in 2015, offering news and other content via subscription. The company deployed a two-pronged strategy to build their digital subscriber base, with a focus on subscription revenues as a core success metric. Convert with intent. Traditional newspapers interact with customers in a one-way fashion, delivering content and hoping for reader eyeballs to potentially drive advertising spend. Mainichi Newspapers made the conversion of readers to subscribers an intentional part of their revenue strategy. Dynamic paywalls, smart audience segmentation, and personalized offers helped drive efficient subscriber acquisition. This strategy required agile subscription management that could deploy and redeploy products and offers quickly. Turn conversions into relationships. Unlike old school news, Mainichi Newspapers doesn’t take its readers for granted. Digital subscribers are nurtured with content, initiatives, and activities based on data analysis to improve user engagement and increase retention. This strategy requires robust subscriber insights to execute effectively. With these strategies in place, Mainichi Newspapers is poised to stabilize and grow their business based on digital subscribers. Long-term relationships not only provide more stable revenue, they also have the potential to reinvigorate an older revenue stream: advertising. Mainichi plans to use the robust customer data gathered from its digital subscription platform to build a better destination for advertising buys. And that’s good news for Mainichi Newspapers.

Fresh subscription stories delivered to your inbox, weekly.

Subscribe to Subscribed
By using the website, you agree to the use of cookies. Head to our cookie policy to learn more about cookies and manage cookies on this website.