On Monday May 29, the morning after the municipal and regional elections in Spain and coinciding with the surprise announcement of snap general elections, the newspaper topped the figure of 300,000. Of these, more than 264,000 are exclusively digital, while 32,000 are subscribers to the print edition (which also allows access to the digital edition) and close to 6,000 to the PDF version of the print edition. The newspaper reaches this figure just three years after launching its digital subscription, wich means the community of subscribers to the newspaper has grown significantly.
For a number of years the media world has been convinced that the only way to maintain quality and independent journalism is by relying on a community of subscribers. Indeed, the drop in newsstand sales of print newspapers, the advent of digital platforms and the volatility of advertising revenues combine to make any other model practically impossible for large-scale newsrooms with a global vocation. Other major international newspapers are years ahead of the Spanish press, having embraced paywall models around the turn of the decade. Among Spanish media, EL PAÍS stands out as a pioneer, an outstanding leader in a sector that is beginning to report a certain degree of stagnation, likely due to the economic uncertainty of recent months.
"The consensus is that this year the focus will be on retaining existing subscribers rather than adding new ones," predicts Nic Newman, author of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (Oxford) report on trends in the media industry for 2023. However, EL PAÍS continues to see growth at a rate that actually accelerated in January 2022 with the switch to a freemium model, with a large number of articles that can only be read by subscribers and others that remain open.
“The most exciting thing is the rate at which the number of subscribers is growing. Not long ago we celebrated hitting the milestone figure of 250,000 and today we are at 300,000, which confirms our astonishing lead in Spain. This is very promising for quality journalism,” says Pepa Bueno. The editor-in-chief of EL PAÍS stressed the importance of independent journalism in the face of the proliferation of fake news and misinformation: “It is a very serious problem that infects the entire communications and media ecosystem. But most people won't pay for propaganda. You have to wonder why a lot of the junk we receive, supposedly informative, is free. In times of uncertainty, and right now we are facing decisive general elections in Spain and Europe, the fact that we have 300,000 subscribers tells us that we are delivering useful, committed and pluralistic journalism. Bias and obsession free”.
Recent years have seen an inordinate amount of epochal events, a quick succession of major news stories that have shaped our world. In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic broke out, paralyzing the world — just a few days after EL PAÍS announced that it was about to launch its subscription model. Since then, the news has been relentless, ranging from a war in Europe to the eruption of the La Palma volcano, changes of government in countries such as Chile and Brazil to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. And all these major stories have been covered in depth by EL PAÍS, not only with journalists on the ground, but also with thoughtful analysis, graphics, videos, podcasts and opinion pieces, all aimed at giving readers a better understanding of events and their consequences.
Carlos Núñez, executive chairperson and CEO of EL PAÍS, notes this sustained growth: “Subscription is central to our strategy, and EL PAÍS has transferred its undeniable leadership in print to the digital environment. We are the leading global newspaper in Spanish: we have the highest net subscriber growth by far and we boast the largest global base. And we have achieved it in just three years and without yet structurally venturing into our markets in the Americas. And we're not about to rest on our laurels. Our goal is to continue learning with and from our readers, to better understand what type of product they demand from EL PAÍS and to adapt our offer to their interests, their reading habits and the time they have available for news”.
Demanding and committed readers
Covering what others would prefer to remain unknown — investigating and publishing exclusive news — continues to be the chief mission of EL PAÍS, which has several offices in Spain and is expanding its presence in the Americas. But, at a time when much of society is suffering from so-called "news fatigue" due to the overabundance of news and information, especially negative news, newspapers have a duty to help readers to understand the world, to both broaden their horizons and to offer them news that impacts their day-to-day lives. Some of the newspaper's most recent commitments respond to these needs, such as the launch of the Health and Well-being sections or EL PAÍS Gastro. There's also a firm commitment to audiovisual formats, with the Hoy en EL PAÍS podcast at the forefront. And there are 50 special newsletters on issues ranging from geopolitics to chess which have been widely welcomed by the subscriber community: half are signed up for a newsletter and each of these is subscribed, on average, to four. Subscribers are also eager to learn about all the latest cultural trends, with many anxiously awaiting Babelia's list of best books of the year.
“Since its foundation, EL PAÍS has always focused on the reader. Testament to this commitment is the Style Book which seeks to guarantee greater transparency in the newspaper's engagement with the public. Technology has meant that his relationship with the reader, now a subscriber, has become even more direct,” says Soledad Alcaide, the Readers' Editor. She receives daily messages (and complaints) from a community that is growing all over the world: 20% of the 300,000 subscribers are from outside of Spain, mainly in the Americas. “They tend to be more critical with style rather than substance. They tend to complain more about errors or misprints or problems accessing the paper than about the actual journalism we practice. And yes, there are more complaints than compliments, although we do get lots of these too. We have very demanding readers.”
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