Nov 1, 2022 - Economy

Insider overhauls subscription strategy in face of recession fears

Photo: Insider

Insider is planning to restructure its newsroom to bring more content in front of its paywall, Nicholas Carlson, global editor-in-chief of Insider, told Axios. About 60 paywalled writers are expected to have their work moved in front of the publication's paywall.

The big picture: The moves are part of a broader effort to get ahead of any economic turmoil in the months ahead.

  • "Is it a coincidence that it's time to make this call heading into a new year following a budget season? No, that's not a coincidence," Carlson said, noting Insider's long history of pivoting. "This is how we have been resilient over the past 15 years."
  • The company, like most of the media industry, is feeling the impact of a broader ad market slowdown, he added. The new moves will help to create more traffic, and thus more inventory to sell ads against.

Details: The changes will shift Insider's strategy to focus its subscriber-only stories more narrowly on exclusives about big-name companies and people, as well as aspirational content around career growth and personal finance.

  • "[I]f you have juicy, fascinating details about anybody who has a big name or really matters to a lot of people, they will hand us their credit card information," Carlson said.
  • Aspirational content, or "recipes for success," as Carlson calls it, continues to help sell new subscriptions. "It's journalism for the people who are seeking financial independence, who have alternative career paths in mind, who are entrepreneurial," Carlson said.

Of note: Reporters affected by the change were told that there were jobs available to them in front of the paywall, and if they did not want to switch to a new role, they would be eligible for a severance payment.

In front of the paywall, Insider will focus more on explanatory journalism, like stories that help readers digest major business trends.

  • "That stuff just isn't driving new subs for us as much as we hoped maybe it would, or even, it's not really part of it," Carlson said. "So we're like, hey, let's put that in front of the paywall and let millions more people read it."
  • Carlson said that over time, Insider has shifted its subscription strategy to be less focused on trade reporting and "more like a general news publication for enterprising people" who want to read exclusive stories with details they won't find elsewhere. "We've seen that stuff really drives subs."

The big picture: Making these changes will help the company grow its subscription business long-term, Carlson said.

  • "We think this is a way to have a better, healthier subscriptions business for the next 10 years," he said. "[T]his is very much to put us in a position to continue to invest in the subscriptions business, having understood after doing it for five years, what's really driving it and doubling down on that."

By the numbers: Last year, Insider CEO and founder Henry Blodget told Axios, "Internally, the objective over the next 5 years is to reach a billion people online per month, have a million subscribers and a thousand journalists."

  • In May, the company said it had around 350,000 subscriptions, up from 250,000 in early 2021, per Press Gazette.
  • As of October of last year, advertising revenues accounted for roughly 50% of Insider's business.

What to watch: About 300 people in the Insider newsroom are represented by the NewsGuild of New York.

  • Management will need to brief the union about changes. Department leads were informed beginning last Friday about the changes.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say that 50% of Insider's revenues come from advertising, not from subscriptions, as we originally wrote.

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