The launch of the EL PAÍS paid digital subscription model on May 1 was a milestone in the newspaper’s transformation as a media company, one that just four months later can already be measured in numbers. EL PAÍS now has nearly 110,000 subscribers, 64,200 of whom are exclusively digital subscribers.
In addition to these readers, who have joined since May, EL PAÍS has 37,923 subscribers to the print edition and 7,842 to Kiosko y Más, the digital version of the print newspaper. Readers who subscribe to the print edition also have access to all online content – nearly half have signed up. But in the interests of being completely transparent with the market, EL PAÍS does not count these subscribers, or those to Kiosko y Más, as exclusively digital members.
The support and loyalty of readers have allowed us to address with greater resources the challenges of the future, to do better journalism, to invest in new ways of explaining our realityEL PAÍS editor-in-chief Javier Moreno
The figures, which EL PAÍS has released for the first time, position the newspaper far and above the other media outlets in Spain on the digital subscription path, which the industry considers as the only possible formula to ensure the sustainability of large, high-quality news companies. At this especially complex time, diversifying income streams is the right way to guarantee a future. Advertising continues to be a crucial element of the equation, but it is not enough to weather the turbulence of the sector: the decades-long fall in print advertising, the tough competition from large platforms for a stake in the digital space, and the blow of the coronavirus pandemic have made it an even greater necessity to develop an economic model based on the support of a committed community of readers, and simultaneously on higher quality advertising that takes advantage of its knowledge of users. This too, at a time when the world is becoming rapidly more digital.
EL PAÍS has a team of more than 400 journalists and the largest network of Spanish-speaking correspondents in the world, with four especially active news desks in Madrid, Barcelona, Mexico City and São Paulo. Founded in May 1976, EL PAÍS is global, European and increasingly American – 20% of new subscribers are from outside of Spain.
The relevance of the digital subscription model is evident today more than ever. Addressing an issue as complex as the coronavirus pandemic, against a backdrop of uncertainty and disinformation, has required experienced journalists to spend an innumerable number of hours in providing readers with useful and thorough information. Having specialists in health, education, science, economy, data and graphics, as well as the ability to cover a story from a local and global perspective, sets EL PAÍS apart, and above all it represents a public service. If the challenge wasn’t already big enough, this work has been done in the streets and in our reporters’ homes. Our newsrooms have been empty since mid-March and the return to normality is still a long way off.
The current data indicates a promising outlook for the EL PAÍS subscription model, which was launched in May, two months after the pandemic broke out. But it is just the beginning of a long journey. In the United Kingdom, a country with nearly 70 million inhabitants, the British daily The Times reached 100,000 subscribers a year after they began to charge readers – despite having a market as vast as the English-speaking community. The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal have been on this road for more than two decades; and The New York Times, which all news outlets look up to, given its successful business and digital transformation, made a hesitant start in 2011, but did not see a full bloom of its digital subscription model until 2016, when Donald Trump was elected US president. In Spain, the newspaper El Mundo made the first step to a subscriber system at the end of October last year; the communications group Vocento has been progressively moving its local newspapers in this direction for years; and it is expected that the Spanish newspapers Abc and La Vanguardia will also switch to this model soon. The subscription model has also been pursued by some online news outlets, most recently El Confidencial, while elDiario.es has been using this system since it was founded.
EL PAÍS editor-in-chief, Javier Moreno, recognizes and thanks subscribers for their support at this critical moment for the future of the newspaper: “Their support and loyalty have allowed us to address with greater resources the challenges of the future, to do better journalism, to invest in new ways of explaining our reality.”
The culture of paid subscriptions has gradually become more widespread in society, encouraged by platforms like Netflix and Spotify, with increasingly better content and technology and a design that aims to make things easy for the subscriber. As indicated in the last report from the Reuters Institute at Oxford University, this culture has moved to journalism, with readers subscribing for several key factors: difference from competitors, quality, good user experience and a fair price.
In addition to the 110,00 subscribers, EL PAÍS now has three million registered readers
“After consolidating our leadership as the main and most influential media outlet in Spanish in the world, it is now time to be leaders in the subscription model. We will do this by putting the subscriber at the center, by returning the newspaper to a state in which it can be funded and kept sustainable by its readers. The data is very positive and will serve as a basis to reach the more ambitious objectives we have set for ourselves,” says Alejandro Martínez Peón, managing director of EL PAÍS.
Online readers can browse up to 10 Spanish articles a month free of charge, and after that they will need to subscribe to enjoy unlimited access to all EL PAÍS content. A few other articles require registration but remain available free of charge, and the English Edition of EL PAÍS will for the immediate future remain fully open to readers without the need for a digital subscription.
The cost of a digital subscription is €10 a month or €96 a year. The first month is €1, with no further commitment required. During the first weeks of the launch of the model, many readers chose the monthly plan, but as time has passed and subscriptions are renewed, yearly subscriptions have seen the highest percentage growth, a sign of the trust that readers place in the newspaper. At the same time, as was predicted in the business plan and in line with similar subscription models such as those used by The New York Times or The Washington Post, traffic to the site has fallen 14% since the launch in May. However, EL PAÍS has not only seen a rise in the number of subscribers, but also in the number of registered readers – the step before subscription and required to access certain articles – with this figure now over three million.