Many regional publishers are enjoying great success in acquiring digital subscriptions, especially in times of corona. The flip side are high churn rates. We see publishers with cancellation rates of 60% and above per year on the total subscriber base. Obviously, this is not a basis for a sustainable business.

Data analysis shows that churn rates are directly related to the engagement of the user. The equation is simple: More Engagement = Less Churn.

In the DRIVE publisher initiative, we have classified the users into engagement categories. Depending on how much time they spend on the news site and how often they come, we have defined six different user groups: Champions, Loyals, High-Usage Irregulars, Low-Usage Irregulars, Fly-Bys, Not-Engaged

User Categorisation According to Engagement

Unfortunately, the distribution of users does not correspond to the illustration above. According to the data of 16 regional news sites with a joint user base of > 4,5 million, less than 5% of these users can be considered engaged.

Pie chart of User Classification Drive Initiative

There is probably a bias in the data, as some users delete their cookies or access with different devices. Even then, the loyal user base does not exceed a share of 10-15%.

Far too less, as the next analysis shows. We have examined, how engagement affects churn. The figures show how many new subscribers are still active after two months. The results show the clear correlation between engagement and churn.

Chart of how many Subscriber are still active after 60 Days

But these churn rates are not a fundamental, natural law, as the next analysis shows. We have compared retention rates over nine different regional publishers. Again, the results are astonishing and refer to the ability of a publisher to build engagement and habits.

Bar Chart of Retention rates

There are many ways to increase user engagement. In the German DRIVE initiative, >20 regional new sites share their data and realize cross-publisher experiments to find the most efficient ones. We will publish on a regular basis the most interesting insights.

Drive (Digital Revenue Initiative) is a joint project by Schickler (largest German consultant for news publishers) and dpa (the German news agency).