The Google News Initiative Digital Subscriptions Lab launched in March with the goal of developing sustainable and thriving consumer-driven business models for newspapers across North America. GNI selected Local Media Association and FTI Consulting as partners in this program.

In April, 10 newspaper partners were chosen to participate in this one-of-a-kind initiative, representing a diverse cross-section of small, medium and large newspapers – all committed to business transformation through digital subscriptions. Since then, LMA staff members have collaborated with these newspaper partners to understand what’s holding back publishers from unlocking more revenue through subscriptions. These are the early findings presented at WAN-IFRA World News Media Congress in June by LMA President Nancy Lane.

1. Technology challenges are holding back small and mid-size newspapers.

Small and mid-size newspapers are especially hampered by legacy systems designed for circulation, and not retrofitted for the digital era. New technology options are expensive but critical to success. Without the means to invest in technology, or outside help to do so, publishers will not be able to succeed.

2. Understanding and leveraging data is a major challenge.

Most newspapers do not have a data strategy or a dedicated data analyst on staff. When data is available, publishers don’t know how to make sense of it and as a result, they are not able to leverage data in meaningful ways to grow subscriptions. Without changes in resources to develop a better understanding and handle on valuable data, newspapers cannot grow digital subscriptions.

3. User experience is a persistent issue.

Technology friction is high among newspapers. Newspapers are not using a single click-to-pay interface, and for many users, there are simply too many steps to complete the transaction and purchase a subscription. UX must become a top focus for newspaper publishers to win in this space.

LMA’s work with the GNI Digital Subscriptions Lab is part of Accelerate Local, a transformative, purpose-built entity committed to ensuring the future of local news by discovering, researching, testing and delivering new business models that can profitably scale.