Auto payment suspension is a roadblock for Indian publishers entering a subscription model: Tara Lajumoke

The managing director of FT Strategies, Tara Lajumoke, gives a low-down on their partnership with Google News Initiative, the strategies they are developing for five Indian publishers under Subscription Academy, and more…

Oct 17, 2022 10:00:00 AM | Article | Noel D'Souza

The Financial Times and Google News Initiative (GNI) have joined hands to provide five Indian publishers with strategies to help them achieve their digital transformation goals. 

 

The program titled 'Subscription Academy’ has selected The Times of India, The Ken, The Hindu, Moneycontrol, and Vikatan for 2022. 

 

Through the program, FT and GNI aim to help publishers thrive in the digital age and aspire to support quality journalism.

 

Campaign India spoke to Tara Lajumoke, managing director, FT Strategies, to understand the plans they have chalked out for the selected Indian publishers, the impact they are expecting, and how a subscription paywall can draw in premium advertisers on digital publications. 

 

Edited excerpts:

 

Financial Times signed a partnership with Google News Initiative (GNI) in 2020 to help grow sustainable businesses. Can you tell us more about this?

 

The partnership of FT and GNI started in Europe in 2020, after which we rolled out our first-ever program for publishers called 'Subscriptions Lab'. Eight European publishers were onboarded for this program to help them grow their subscription revenue. 

 

It was the same time the Covid outbreak took place, and it was the right time for publishers worldwide to pivot as it was a challenging period for business sustainability. 

 

A year after the program, publishers recorded an increase in their subscription revenue by about 33% and had increased benefits when it came to churning content. Through the program, they were able to build the necessary capabilities and confidence to continue their growth trajectory. 

 

Google News Initiative, a global initiative, seeing the success we are having in other locations, were interested in replicating that mastery for markets like India. 

 

We extended the partnership into India for the first time this year and are excited about the opportunities. 

 

What plans have FT strategies chalked out for the Indian publishers under the Subscription Academy program?

 

Subscription Academy is all about building successful subscription businesses. The five publishers will go through three phases. 

 

The first phase is all about the diagnosis. Understanding how they are performing by analysing their subscription funnel, the traffic on their website, and what their conversion rates are like. We also want to make them understand where they are doing well and where they can improve. 

 

The second phase is the north star strategy phase. This is all about building a strategy to allow them to get from where they are today to where they can get to. 

 

Finally, it's the experiment phase. After building strategies, the next goal is to implement the plans. This means that we will test and learn how the plans can work out by proving a hypothesis and starting to build progress early on. 

 

What impact will these publications see for their respective businesses after the digital transformation takes place?

 

It is about tactically understanding how we can help them improve in areas where they have growth opportunities. As part of the diagnostic phase, if it looks like they can do better in attracting a wider topper funnel. Then we will provide them with strategies to improve them. 

 

The second benefit I expect to see is around strategic priorities. For example, some of the themes we have heard from publishers are that they want to reach out to more female readers, reach Indian readers outside of India and diversify content to reflect more languages. FT Strategies and GNI intend to provide solutions to work through these ambitions. 

 

It is also about creating a mindset, skill and confidence to build a culture and teams that will allow publishers to achieve sustained progress.

 

Are you looking to add any more publications to the Subscription Academy? 

 

For now, it is only the five Indian publishers we’ve onboarded. We had to go through a lot of publications that applied for the program. Finally, we selected only a few. But we are hoping to open the doors for more publishers next year and intend to launch similar programs like the Subscription Academy. 

 

While cultivating a digital presence, what are the challenges that come across globally and are expected in the Indian market?

 

Across many countries around the world, traditional media business models, whether it is print, philanthropy, or advertising, are under a lot of pressure. It is a trend we are seeing and will continue to see in India as well. 

 

Most of them are facing challenges in their revenue line and would like to innovate, build and enhance their business model. They want to fill in the gaps that the traditional revenue model is leaving dents in. 

 

There is also a roadblock on the payment front, where publishers are looking forward to getting consumers to pay for quality journalism. They want these payments either to come through donations, micropayments, subscriptions or membership payments. 

 

Another setback is about attracting the right talent to build impactful strategies for our publishers. Be it on the technical front or the diversity spectrum. 

 

Do you think the Indian market is ready to shift to a subscription-based model?

 

It's a million rupee question that we are actively working through. I hypothesise that there is a growing interest in supporting quality journalism. 

 

The main challenge is about convincing people to pay because they see the value. 

 

For the Indian market, there are a lot of other complexities that need to be overcome when it comes to subscriptions. 

 

In the UK and the US, readers can set up subscriptions through their bank accounts relatively easily. But in India, there are some regulatory complexities with the auto payment suspension for some banks as directed by the RBI. This makes it harder to keep people hooked on longer packages. 

 

Will premium brands benefit from a subscription-based model?

 

At the FT, we have a hard paywall as part of our subscriptions business model. There is sometimes a concern that the more you lock, the greater the decline of traffic generated ad revenue.
 
However, we know that whilst volume may be affected, there is a valuable opportunity to drive value, especially attractive to premium brands who care more about reaching a targeted audience than appealing to the mass market. 
 

For instance, Louis Vuitton would not want to reach out to a mass audience because not everyone can afford their bags. They would want to reach out to a premium audience. Hence, putting up an ad on a pay-to-view platform will help them have better audience reach.