Publisher Spotlight: How The Economist Rewired It’s Tech Stack & Business Culture to Grow Paid Readership

The Economist’s Subrata Mukherjee shares why the renowned publisher’s journey to attract, nurture, and retain subscribers was propelled by rewiring its culture as much as its marketing technology.

By Ellen Harvey

The Setup

In a world where content is often free and always bountiful, consumers are presented with endless options, yet still have limited bandwidth to consume content. In this crowded media market publishers need to be able to take advantage of every opportunity they can to grow and monetize their audiences. Publishers also need to package and deliver content to readers when and how they want to consume it, whether that’s through a personalized newsletter, curated app, or in-person event.

If publishers can do all this, there’s a good chance readers will pay for content. But these efforts require a complex stack of new technologies to replace the clunky legacy workflows of yore.

That’s no short order, and it’s the exact challenge The Economist faced a few years ago. Its existing systems were not prepared to deliver content to its million-plus readers across dozens of countries and convert them towards a subscription. As The Economist’s Subrata Mukherjee explained to attendees at FUSE: The Convergence of Technology & Media, in order to grow its audience and upsell existing readers, the publisher needed to completely transform its marketing technology and business practices. “Our time to market for new products was terrible because our content was spread across different systems,” says Mukherjee. “We tried to cross-sell two verticals in a content bundle and it took us six months. We realized if we’re taking this long to bundle our content together, there is something fundamentally wrong.”

Mukherjee, who is vice president of product management at The Economist, says that many audience development tactics were difficult to execute because of its disjointed technology. Free trials were hard to manage because of the publisher’s static paywall. Readers in emerging markets like Asia faced greater barriers to subscribing because the payment options were limited. The Economist’s customer service was complex, varying from product to product, which made it harder to retain subscribers. All of these issues made it onerous for non-paying readers to move down The Economist’s acquisition funnel toward a paid subscription and more premium packages.

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