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November 23, 2023

How Bloomberg Media got to 500,000 subscribers – and how it plans to reach a million

Press Gazette caught up with Bloomberg Media chief digital officer Julia Beizer in New York.

By Dominic Ponsford

Bloomberg Media‘s chief digital officer Julia Beizer has told Press Gazette how the title managed to reach 500,000 subscriptions, five years after launching its paywall.

The milestone makes it one of only 16 English-language news publishers in the world to have reached more than 500,000 digital subscribers.

The pace of growth has been rapid and only slightly diminished by the post-pandemic subscriptions slowdown. What tactics are driving it?

Beizer said the current growth follows a change of focus around 18 months ago.

"We thought we had done all of the amazing tactics that people do when they're in the subscription business: intro offers, catching people in lots of paid marketing, and we said what we actually want are people who are really qualified to stick around - people who are really interested in getting into a long-term relationship," she said.

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"So the growth rates have slowed, but our subscribers are people who really want to be here. 88% of our users are on an annual price and what that says to me is these are real, authentic users.

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"We spend a lot of time nurturing and engaging these members. So if they use the product then subscription growth comes naturally: because it's something that you use every day, you see value in, it's something you're going to retain. So I think the strategy for growth is really a strategy of thinking about your audience first, and then make your decision there."

Dynamic paywall built in-house

Bloomberg uses a dynamic paywall with different pricing offers for different users, but the general rule is there is registration to begin with that earns users one free article per month, then they must pay to read more.

The publisher works with subscription management platform Chargebee, but Beizer said the paywall experience is mainly driven by in-house technology.

As far as the build-versus-buy debate goes, Beizer said: "One of my strategies is, if this going to be core to your business it is something you want the ultimate control over. Certainly, there are cost considerations, it's really expensive to build and maintain. We have found in the case of the paywall, that investment was worthwhile."

Subscriptions versus advertising revenue mix

Asked whether subscriptions have become more important over the past year in what, for most, has been a torrid year for advertising Beizer said: "Diversification is the name of the game. And that was the reason we got into this business in 2018.

"But the subscriptions business has grown faster than we anticipated, and certainly than we modeled. So it's become a really, really significant player.

"Our three major revenue streams are advertising, subscriptions, and events. So it's one of the big three."

She said that subscriptions also drive advertising because Bloomberg has better first-party data for logged-in readers.

She added: "Subscription businesses are just so honest, you know, you kind of put one foot in front of the other every day to serve your users. And they say thank you, and here's money.

"So the benefit of being in subscription businesses is unbelievably clarifying and has really helped us say, hey, what do our subscribers need? Great, we're going to develop that."

Which content drives subscriptions for Bloomberg?

Asked what types of content works best when it comes to driving subscriptions, she says markets coverage and technology are among the most popular categories. Personal finance is another growing category, particularly in the UK-facing website. Bloomberg employs some 500 journalists and analysts in London and made a significant investment in its Bloomberg UK media website last year.

"That's been very, very good for us in terms of introducing this brand, and the breadth of what we offer to wider audiences," Beizer said, adding: "Given everything going on in the UK cost of living crisis, that's been very, very popular with readers"

Bloomberg's various video and podcast offerings sit outside the paywall whereas newsletters are a mixture of gated and free, with five currently sitting within the paywall.

Will Gen Z ever subscribe to Bloomberg?

Asked what Bloomberg's approach is to engaging with Gen Z, the generation that currently seems to prefer social media to publisher websites for news, Beizer said: "We're stewards of this brand for the long term and so that means we have to be everywhere audiences are and audiences are emerging.

"I also think that we have to experiment with new types of journalism and storytelling that fits that format. And be very, very specific to platform.

"Some of the stuff that the Bloomberg opinion team is doing on Tiktok is amazing. It's riotously funny, and it really, really works within the context of Tiktok. I think it's super important for news organisations to flex those muscles.

"I'm not advocating the pivot to video days and abandoning all businesses in support of that, that doesn't make sense for us. But certainly, embracing the way the internet is consuming content is a big priority for us. And I think really important."

How is Bloomberg Media's ad business holding up?

Most publishers are reporting online display advertising steeply down this year, with programmatic revenues particularly hard hit. How is Bloomberg Media faring?

"Our business is direct. A year ago, we actually turned off the open exchange on our site. And the reason for that was first and foremost user experience.

"We know that some of that ad tech can really slow down user experience and put ads in the platform that don't enrich the user experience. Ultimately, we have a very strong direct business."

The decision to switch off programmatic has not been without its challenges, Beizer said, "particularly in the UK market where the agencies are, like, 'look its easier for us, we got to do it this way'."

But she added: "We have found that because of the unique value of our audience and the premium that our clients place on reaching our audience of C-suites, influentials, high net-worths, business decision-makers, they're willing to work with us. We did post some growth in Q2, I think we have 3% figure. But it's certainly a tougher environment."

Bloomberg Media and Bloomberg Terminals

Press Gazette met Beizer at Bloomberg Tower on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, a vast office complex that also houses the financial information business.

Bloomberg Media remains the baby sister of the Bloomberg Terminals newswire business.

With 325,000 Bloomberg Terminals subscribers paying around $25,000 per year, the terminals business is worth at least $8bn a year in subscription revenue versus perhaps $75m from Bloomberg Media subscribers (making the big assumption that the £120 a year rate I am being offered in the UK is typical and everyone is paying it).

To what extent does the Media business funnel subscribers into Terminals?

"The legacy here is that Mike [founder Michael Bloomberg] really started the media business as content marketing for the Terminals. Our original goal was essentially just awareness-driving for Bloomberg LP writ large.

"Have users gone all the way through that funnel from using the website to the terminal, of course, is that the main way we sell terminals, absolutely not. Is there a relationship there?

"Yes, we work hand in glove with them, particularly on the technology side - how we can improve experiences for every customer that interacts."

Onwards to one million

Can subscriptions growth accelerate again perhaps towards the magic million milestone?

"Yes, and and here's why," Beizer said. "Number one, the group subscriptions, enterprise subscriptions. That's very new to us. That's a huge growth driver.

"Number two, we have long-term subscribers who want to stick with us now. So on top of the new subscribers that we're bringing in, I think we've done a lot of work to repair what people talk about in the industry is this leaky bucket problem.

"So now we're filling it up. And I think that's going to lead to some really, really accelerated growth."

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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