Media Pitch: Subtext Connects Journalists with Subscribers for 1:1 Conversations
In pursuit of reader revenue, many publishers are creating subscription products tailored to reader interests. Subtext, a texting platform formerly known as Project Text, opens a personal channel of communication between content creators and readers to help publishers convert subscribers and foster their loyalty.
“It’s a chance for the audience to actually have a 1:1 conversation with reporters and columnists they regularly follow or beats that they care deeply about,” says JulieAnn McKellogg, director of audience growth at Subtext. “Especially with podcast audiences, we are seeing significant conversion rates from listeners to paying Subtext subscribers.”
In this Q&A, McKellogg describes how Subtext is designed to drive membership and subscriptions, while “providing the monetization tools to do it.”
What is Subtext, and how did it come to life?
Subtext is a texting platform that allows users to manage and monetize communications with their subscribers. The product was created in 2018 by the Alpha Group, Advance Digital’s in-house media incubator. Inspired by niche experiments in texting, the team (consisting of an engineer, product manager, creative director and the head of the incubator) believed there were major advantages to cutting through the noise and clutter of social media and email, and delivering information via the most widely used communication platform, texting. The team first prototyped Subtext with San Francisco politics reporter Joe Eskenazi for his coverage of the city’s mayoral election in the summer of 2018. Joe was the first to break the news of Mayor London Breed’s election, and he did it over Subtext, giving his subscribers the news first. Joe is still one of our most active hosts today!
How does your technology solution work?
Think of it like an email inbox for texting. Our users have a dashboard or inbox that allows them to send messages to all their subscribers at once. And then to reply individually to their subscribers. It’s not a group chat. We define the conversation as 1:all:1. Hosts send a message. All subscribers receive the messages on their phone, like you would any text message. And then subscribers can directly respond to the host who texted them, like they would to a family or friend. From our dashboard, a host can also manage their campaign’s subscriptions, build and offer promotions, if they charge for the subscription, and understand the growth and engagement of the campaign with our analytics dashboard.
How does Subtext help publishers drive revenue or cut costs?
We’re creating an additional revenue stream for our customers that opt to offer our product as a paid subscription service. Our users take home about 80% of the revenue generated by their campaigns, with the other 20% roughly going to data and fees, and to Subtext. Other customers are providing the service for free to their audience as a way to bring them into their conversion funnel or as an add-on to an existing subscription offering.
Why is your solution unique and innovative?
It’s a minimalistic and impactful way to achieve two goals most news organizations are focused on today. First, to serve your community – a la concierge style – and second to discover new revenue streams. Currently, there is no other platform tailored to journalists that allows customers to drive revenue through a subscription-based texting. It feels counterintuitive to call texting innovative, when it’s so widely used and has been around longer than Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other widely-used messaging platforms. It is really is a new frontier though for information and communicating beyond family and friends. We, of course, see it widely used in the service industry, restaurants and airlines are two familiar examples. But the simplicity, immediacy and intimacy of the platform really allows for honest engagement with your news audience that gives ways to a whole host of benefits: monetization, customer loyalty, story generation and more.
What types of publishers are using Subtext with success?
Short answer is all types. Big and very small. Covering beats like local politics, sports and niche business news. Our largest and most engaged audiences are around sports teams. Unsurprising to most people in our industry, subscribers have a big appetite for news and information about their favorite teams. And we find our sports reporters and columnists are naturals on Subtext. But not only are the subscribers benefiting from the insider information, our hosts are discovering the inherent value of this two-way communication platform as well.
A great use case is that of Lakewood, Ohio, where Cleveland.com has reporter Emily Bamforth covering this millennial-centric suburb solely on Subtext. Emily is highly engaged with her subscribers, whose questions have helped shape her local election coverage and who partake in a weekly scavenger hunt she creates around the community.
In your opinion, what is the most important trend affecting the media business today?
The over saturation of the market in some verticals, a la national politics, and the significant reporting gap in others, a la local news, creates an imbalanced media ecosystem. We need to find new ways to distribute existing information and to uncover information that is overlooked, largely due to a lack of resources. We believe tools like Subtext are helping disseminate news in the industry, giving a voice to communities and individuals that don’t feel heard, while generating a new revenue stream for publishers, who are committed and passionate about the service that is journalism.