‘Stay informed’, ‘become an insider’ or ‘drive change’: Repackaging newspaper subscriptions in the digital age

Efrat Nechushtai*, Lior Zalmanson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Subscription fees are an increasingly prominent revenue source for news organizations, challenging advertising as the primary business model for news. But when most online news remains available for free, how do publishers convince readers to pay? We examined how the 55 most-read US newspapers frame their value proposition when they ask readers to subscribe. Using the Meyer-Allen organizational commitment framework, we analyzed the informational, social, and normative elements mentioned in ‘subscribe now’ webpages. Every subscription offer referred to the informational value in a regular relationship with the newspaper, yet 62 percent also mentioned affective and community-based benefits in subscription, and 33 percent evoked normative and value-based benefits. Our data show that newspaper subscriptions are often promoted as a relationship with social and normative dimensions, rather than merely an information-based transaction – with some differences in the language used by newspapers of different sizes, ownership types, US regions, and local political orientations (‘red’/‘blue’ state). This work demonstrates the merit in analyzing promotional materials produced by news organizations to better understand both their strategies and their relationships with the communities they serve.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2035-2052
Number of pages18
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Commitment
  • community
  • conversion
  • digital news
  • engagement
  • local journalism
  • media financing
  • online/digital journalism
  • paywall
  • subscription


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