Two dozen English-language news publishers and publications have collected 100,000 or more digital-only subscriptions, new research by Press Gazette has found.
Between them, the 24 news brands share more than 20m online subscriptions, a number that has been boosted significantly since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.
US giants the New York Times (6.1m), Washington Post (3m) and Wall Street Journal (2.4m) lead the way in our 100k Club league table.
We also today exclusively reveal new figures for the Financial Times, the Guardian, Barron’s, McClatchy, the Los Angeles Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which has emerged as a digital leader among traditional US metropolitan daily newspapers.
Prices of subscriptions to the 24 publications and publishers vary from $1.99 a month for National Geographic to £75 ($100) a month for Dow Jones specialist title Financial News.
In all, Press Gazette’s calculations suggest that if all subscriptions were paid at full rate, they would be worth around $5.7bn (£4.2bn) a year to the publishers.
One of the major challenges for these news companies now is to convince their online readers – many of whom will have signed up at subsidised rates or at the peak of their interest in Covid-19 news – to continue paying for their subscriptions at pricier rates in the future.
A note on the research: The 100k Club league table, presented in full at the bottom of this article, is based on extensive research and conversations with numerous sources in both the US and the UK. Press Gazette plans to regularly update this research with new figures and add new publications and publishers as they pass the 100,000 mark. If you know of any other publishers that should be included in this ranking, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. The New York Times – 6.1m
With more than 6m paying online readers, the New York Times is the digital subscriptions trailblazer.
Helped by the Trump bump, former chief executive Mark Thompson oversaw a tenfold increase in online subscriptions during his eight-year tenure.
Shortly after taking the reins, new CEO Meredith Kopit Levien predicted that 100m people would be paying for online English-language news within ten years – and said the NYT can command a quarter of this market.
2. The Washington Post – 3m
Unlike its major rivals the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post is a private company, owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. As such, it rarely speaks publicly about its subscriptions business.
However, Axios first reported at the end of November that it now has approximately 3m digital-only subscribers.
3. The Wall Street Journal – 2.4m
Helped by major news events such as the Covid-19 crisis and the 2020 presidential election, the News Corp-owned Journal has added close to half-a-million new paying readers to its online subscriber base over the past year.
In an interview published today, the WSJ’s general manager for membership Karl Wells talks Press Gazette through some of the techniques his team used to increase their subscriber base during the pandemic.
4. Gannett – 1m
Gannett publishes USA Today, hundreds of local newspapers across the United States, and also owns Newsquest in the UK. Its 1,029,000 digital-only subscribers are spread across these titles, but it does not break them down by publication.
5. The Athletic – 1m
Like the Washington Post, the Athletic is privately owned and so decides when to release subscription information.
In September, the sports website’s co-founders, Adam Hansmann and Alex Mather, revealed to CNBC that they had hit 1m subscribers.
6. Financial Times – 945,000
The Financial Times – which was this month crowned News Provider of the Year at the British Journalism Awards – hit 945,000 digital subscribers in the third quarter of this year, Press Gazette understands. The figure has grown from 915,000 at the end of 2019.
The FT has a combined print and digital subscriber base of about 1.1m. Around 20,000 of its 945,000 digital subscribers also pay for print. Because they still pay full price for the digital side, they are included in the digital-only subscriber count.
7. The Guardian – 900,000
The Guardian recently surpassed 900,000 paying online readers, Press Gazette today reveals. This figure includes 352,000 subscriptions to its premium apps and tablet editions, and 548,000 recurring contributors to its journalism.
8. The Economist – 796,000*
The Economist had an average 795,878 paying digital readers in the first half of 2020, according to ABC figures. The magazine brand has not said how many digital-only subscribers it has.
*Note: this figure is digital, rather than digital-only, so not directly comparable with other figures
9. News Corp Australia – 685,000
News Corp Australia does not break down digital subscribers by title. Its biggest titles include the Australian, the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun and the Courier Mail.
10. Barron’s – 458,000
Part of News Corp’s Dow Jones division, Barron’s is an investment news publication that traces its roots back to 1921.
11. Tribune Publishing – 427,000
Chicago-headquartered Tribune Publishing has 427,000 digital-only subscribers across its various news brands, which include the New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel and Virginia’s Daily Press.
The company’s flagship publication, the Chicago Tribune, could make this league table in its own right, having surpassed 100,000 digital-only subscribers in April 2019. The company has not provided an updated figure, but the title’s latest Alliance for Audited Media certificate – for the first quarter of 2020 – suggests it has now passed 125,000 digital subscribers.
12. The Atlantic – 400,000*
Like the Economist, the Atlantic – traditionally a magazine brand – has not provided a digital-only subscriber figure. In total, the title is understood to have 700,000 subscribers, gaining more than 400,000 since it launched a website paywall in September 2019. All 400,000 include digital access, with some including print and others digital-only.
*Note: this figure is digital, rather than digital-only, so not directly comparable with other figures
13. The Times and Sunday Times – 337,000
The Times titles launched their paywall ten years ago. At the time, according to head of digital Alan Hunter, the UK consensus was at “nobody would pay” for general interest news. Today, the Times and Sunday Times have more than 300,000 digital-only subscribers.
14. The Telegraph – 335,000
Hot on the heels of the rival Times titles, the Telegraph has grown its digital-only subscriber base from 214,000 at the end of last year to more than 335,000 in October. Over the same period, its print subscription total fell from around 209,000 to 199,000.
15. McClatchy – 299,000
Like other regional and local news companies, McClatchy has faced major financial challenges in recent years. But the company – which was acquired by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management in September after it had filed for bankruptcy in February – now has close to 300,000 digital-only subscribers, Press Gazette understands. Its major titles include the Sacramento Bee, Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star.
16.The Los Angeles Times – 257,000
One of the giants of the US newspaper industry, the LA Times has gained more than 100,000 subscribers since the end of last year when it had just short of 144,000. Figures seen by Press Gazette show this figure had risen to 257,212 by early December 2020.
The LA Times also has paying readers through the Apple News+ platform, which sells bundles of hundreds of publications to readers. If these readers, and those from similar partnership sources, were included, the LA Times’ total digital-only subs number would total around 368,000.
17. Bloomberg Media – 250,000
In a Press Gazette interview last month, Bloomberg Media chief executive Justin B Smith told how his news website had grown digital subscriptions by 130% in a year. Bloomberg’s news website went behind a metered paywall in 2018. Away from its consumer media brand, Bloomberg is best known among financial professionals for its data terminal subscriptions.
18. The New Yorker – 242,000
A weekly magazine that traces its history back to 1925, the New Yorker had an average digital circulation of 241,723 in the first half of 2020, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. It is understood this figure equates to digital-only subscriptions.
19. Boston Globe – 223,000
The Boston Globe is establishing itself as one of the major standalone US publications for digital subscribers. According to an internal note obtained by journalism professor Dan Kennedy, the title reached 223,000 digital-only subscribers in September.
20. Insider Inc. – 200,000
Best known for Business Insider, the Axel Springer-owned company reached 200,000 subscribers around the beginning of 2020, according to co-founder and chief executive Henry Blodget. Insider has not provided an updated figure since Blodget’s interview with Poynter.
21. Wired – 142,000
According to Wired’s latest Alliance for Audited Media certificate, the technology news brand had an average print circulation of 864,000 in the first half of 2020. Its digital issue, which comes included with a digital-only subscription, had an average circulation of 142,269.
Wired has not commented on its latest digital subscription figure. In March 2019, then editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson – who was recently appointed chief executive of the Atlantic – told Folio digital subscriptions had topped 100,000.
22. National Geographic – 142,000
Walt Disney-owned National Geographic had a total average circulation of more than 2m in first half of 2020, according to its latest Alliance for Audited Media certificate. This figure included a digital circulation of 142,074.
23. Minneapolis Star Tribune – 102,000
Star Tribune Media was one of America’s first regional news organisations to launch a paywall in 2011. It is now enjoying the fruits of its foresight, having surpassed 100,000 digital subscribers in May.
“Since that 2011 implementation, the number of Star Tribune digital subscribers has grown steadily by double-digit percentages,” it said in an announcement at the time. “That success has flown in the face of sceptics who predicted that regional newspapers would be unable to reverse the prevailing business model of free digital access. Instead, building on years of testing and learning, Star Tribune has seen readers reward those efforts with uncommon loyalty and steady renewals.”
By the beginning of this month, its digital-only subscriber number had grown to nearly 102,000.
24. Dow Jones other (Financial News, Private Equity News and MarketWatch) – 102,000
In addition to the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, the other main constituents of News Corp’s Dow Jones division are Financial News, Private Equity News and MarketWatch. Between them, they have just over 100,000 subscribers.
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