Three lessons from The Hindu Group’s data-driven subscription journey that more than doubled digital revenue

We cover how you can leverage the lessons The Hindu Group has learned in its data-driven digital subscriptions journey.

An Indian professional woman sits in front of a large screen displaying data dashboards. We cover the lessons from The Hindu Group's use of data in growing their digital subscriptions business. Image created using Midjourney. Prompt an Indian professional sits in front of a large computer screen that is displaying a news website. She has a tablet computer visible to the viewer showing a graph with a line going up.
We outline the lessons from The Hindu Group's use of data in growing their digital subscriptions business. Image created using Midjourney.

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The data capabilities behind The Hindu Group’s subscription, pricing and product strategies

By Kevin

The Hindu Group has grown its digital revenue by 2.5 times in the past three years as they leaned into a reader revenue strategy that they launched in 2019, according to a case study by WAN-IFRA. They have strategically staged the launch of digital subscriptions and used data at every step to guide decisions and to craft experiments to optimise their approach. It is a classic example of what is possible when a media company develops not only data capabilities but a culture to use that data to inform decision-making.

They developed the confidence to roll out digital subscriptions by calculating the revenue trade-offs between gating some of their content and the loss of advertising revenue that this move would bring. Modelling proved to them that they would have higher returns by rolling out digital subscriptions, Pradeep Gairola, VP and Business Head – Digital, The Hindu, told WAN-IFRA, and that gave them the confidence to introduce paid content.

(W)e are on the path wherein data is a searchlight that is leading us to develop actionable plans… Data enhances your chances to succeed, so an organisation needs to build its capabilities around data. 

Pradeep Gairola, VP and Business Head – Digital

Their data-led digital revenue journey holds a lot of lessons for other publishers.

The benefits of staging your digital subs rollout

They took a staged approach, which not only allowed them to gauge how audiences respond, but it also gave them valuable data on how the paywall should operate.

For the first stage, they launched a “soft paywall” that delivered an “ad-free experience”, and the second stage was a metered paywall. Data told them that only 2% of their audience would see the paywall initially because the meter was set to 10 free articles. But the iteration didn’t stop there. They have continued to leverage data to refine how they manage reader revenue acquisition and optimise their pricing and packaging as well as A/B testing on calls to action, branding and marketing.

At Pugpig Consulting, we are developing testing plans for customers, and a recent testing plan identified an opportunity to increase downloads with minor adjustments to an email by one customer. This delivered a six-fold increase in app downloads, and we are also working with customers on testing plans for subscriptions journeys and calls to action. And as with The Hindu Group, this all starts by supporting you to get the most out of your data and to refine your data operations.

One of the fascinating aspects of this case study is how they continue to experiment with pricing and packaging. Their data is showing them products to target for bundling in order to drive higher average revenue per user rates, and they are toying with some quite novel subscription models such as a lifetime subscription. And as their subscription strategy evolves, they are are adding even more sophisticated capabilities such as a dynamic paywall based on users’ calculated propensity to pay. It is part of their strategy to become a “user-first” organisation and understand “which user is better served with ads and who are the ones who should be asked to subscribe,” Gairola said.

Develop platform-specific strategies

Data has helped them define their conversion funnel and set benchmarks for each stage of the funnel, and it has allowed them to understand how various platforms fit into their revenue strategy. For instance, they found that traffic from search and via Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages were best monetised via advertising rather than as part of their digital subscription push. Similarly, social media generates little traffic, and The Hindu Group is developing approaches for each platform to build brand awareness rather than seeing them as part of their monetisation strategy.

Their data analysis also found that content consumption was most highly correlated with propensity to subscribe, and of all of their platforms, their mobile app delivers the highest level of engagement. Based on monthly figures, the app has about 5% of the brand’s total users but accounts for more than half of all page views.

To meet the challenges of a rapidly changing acquisition landscape, they aggregate their acquisition data into Piano, which they use for subscriptions. It provides a unified view of ROI.

However, that highlights one of their challenges which is as their data efforts have become more sophisticated, they have increased the number of data services that they use so that they now include Piano, Google Analytics, Cue, Clevertap and Botify, which means that there are challenges to getting an integrated view of all of the data that they have.

Data aggregation and unified reporting is one of the services that Pugpig Consulting is providing our customers. Data islands are created not only by an increasing number of data vendors but also because different parts of the business rely on different data services that have, up until recently, rarely been used in concert. Using data aggregation services and Google’s Looker Studio, we can help you see a 360-degree view of your data in dashboards that unlock insights to support your content and revenue strategies.

Using first-party data to redefine engagement and products

As the company has leaned into their data strategy, they are also building out their first-party data capabilities. First-party data is allowing the company to more fully understand user behaviour, redefine engagement and evolve their products. One example that Gairola gave was that they have moved away from “click a link” newsletters to an email product that provides “a complete experience”. They also treat push notifications as the first min stories in their own right that can be expanded in other formats. And like so many publishers, they are finding that their subscribers are far more engaged than other users, consuming 12 times more content.

However, they are not content in simply trying to balance advertising and reader revenue and are looking to develop additional sources of revenue including e-commerce, events and syndication. Revenue diversification is critical in the current volatile economic environment and after facing the whiplash over the past decade from the disconnect between the strategies of platforms and those of publishers.

The case study underscores the importance of data to publishers but also how data maturity is a journey that publishers go on. As their capabilities become more sophisticated they see new opportunities to leverage data and identify new gaps in their abilities that they will need to level up. It’s a continuous process, Gairola says. For The Hindu Group, they are now fine tuning their retention strategies.

Subscription is more of a retention business and less of an acquisition business. A leaky bucket hurts the organisation.

Pradeep Gairola, VP and Business Head – Digital

Improving their retention operations is the next step on their journey, but at least with their ever-improving data capabilities, they have a map that will guide them.

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