Editors note: We are republishing an article by WNIP that looks into Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza’s subscription revenue strategies. This piece was originally published on What’s New in Publishing.

For any newspaper, 280,000 digital subscribers is a hefty achievement. It propels a title into the rarified ‘100K Club‘ and for Gazeta Wyborcza – one of Poland’s leading daily newspapers – it puts them ahead of Canada’s Globe and Mail (200k), Boston Globe (225k) as well as snapping at the heels of Bloomberg (350k).

Most of Gazeta Wyborcza’s subscribers choose the Premium package (PLN 29.90/USD $7.50 month) which provides full access to Wyborcza.pl (website and app), as well as content from Wyborcza’s magazines and local websites which give blanket editorial coverage across 33 Polish towns and cities (most recently in Zakopane, Wałbrzych, Kalisz, Koszalin, Rybnik, and Elbląg).

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The newspaper’s extensive coverage across Poland has played a key part in the title’s success, augmented by syndication agreements with other editorial offices and organizations worldwide (e.g. New York Times features translated into Polish). This is all accompanied by in-depth data analysis of the newspaper’s content to guide editorial strategy.

Our successes would not be possible without the highest quality content. This year, our journalists received, among others, six Grand Press awards, including the Journalist of the Year title for Andrzej Poczobut, imprisoned in Belarus.

Wojciech Bartkowiak, Publishing Director, Wyborcza

The launch of Wyborcza.pl Club

However, it was the newspaper’s launch of Wyborcza.pl Club thirteen months ago that has played a transformative role in the growth of its subscriber base. The Club, premium-priced at PLN 49.90/USD $12.50 month, allows direct contact with the newspaper’s editorial team including participation in online meetings.

Bartosz Wieliński, deputy editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, tells WNIP, “We know that for many of our subscribers “Wyborcza” is something more than just published articles. It is a strong bond and a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people who believe in democracy, human rights, tolerance and the European Union. But also those who are curious about the world, rather kind optimists, who love good books and movies and their little homelands. These readers discuss on our forum, write letters to us, come to meetings. And our Club is for them.”

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The results have surpassed expectations, with live meetings attracting anywhere between 300-1,500 people, with many more watching retrospectively ‘on demand’. This is augmented by special video chats with Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza as well as a special newsletter, from which readers can find out, among other things, what has been argued recently in the editorial office and what is planned for the following week.

Dorota Adamczyk, Chief Digital Revenue officer of Gazeta Wyborcza says that the idea for the Club came out of detailed research they did across their entire readership, “The Club Package is a response to the needs of our most loyal subscribers, who now can stay in touch with the editorial office, share their opinions and influence the activities of Wyborcza.”

Another feature of the Club package is the opportunity to pass on two additional subscriptions to friends or relatives, with Adamczyk disclosing that it is the Club’s most used feature, taken up by nearly 70% of Club members.

Subscribers also get access to the entire archive of Gazeta Wyborcza – over 4 million articles – and as a welcome gift they receive 3 months of free access to Radio TOK FM podcasts.

Dorota Adamczyk, chief digital revenue officer of Gazeta Wyborcza

Pain points and the importance of in-person events

Adamczyk stresses that creating a newspaper club is more complicated than it first appears, with Covid-19 adding another layer of complexity, “Our Club was meant to be about live meetings because this has the greatest value for our members. However, we started the Club at a time when meetings either could not take place, were very limited or were held only online.”

The internet is not a substitute for the experience of meeting a favourite author or other Club Members in person. We can deal with many challenges and we successfully offer our Club Members many attractive solutions, but the lack of live meetings has a negative impact on development of our Club.

Dorota Adamczyk, chief digital revenue officer of Gazeta Wyborcza

The additional burden placed on an already-busy newsroom is another potential hurdle although Adamczyk says that, somewhat surprisingly, the editorial staff relish the opportunity to talk to their readers directly, “Additional tasks, especially those of permanent nature, are always a challenge but meetings with our Club Members – even those virtual ones – give our editorial team a lot of satisfaction.”

This direct engagement with readers is vitally important, with Adamczyk advising other publishers embarking on a similar project to bake this into the cake at the outset, “It is critical to first build a direct relationship with the editorial team of the newspaper and the brand itself. Being a Wyborcza Club member should be a distinctive experience from being a part of the subscriber community, especially if our business offers both possibilities.”

Editors should consider what kind of value proposition they are able to offer club members and whether they can afford it in the long term. On the one hand, it should be something exclusive, and on the other, it must not generate too much cost.

A difficult tightrope, but with digital subs at 280k and a burgeoning Club membership, one that Gazeta Wyborcza appears to be navigating successfully.

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Photo by Gazeta Wyborcza