Churning toward disaster

Subscriber Engagement Index data shows ominous drop in reader retention


Having determined that reader regularity is the most important factor in getting people to pay for news, Medill Spiegel Research Center Director Edward Malthouse sees trouble on the local-journalism horizon based on newly collected data.

Since 2020, the Subscriber Engagement Index (SEI), a tool built by the Spiegel Research Center at the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications, has measured the health of newspapers by tracking how regularly newspaper subscribers consume news and how their retention rates change over time. Currently, 107 U.S. newspapers across various-sized markets provide data that goes into SEI.

“When we started vetting models related to SEI, the prevailing wisdom was that looking at page views was a key metric in assessing the health of a newspaper,” says Malthouse, also a Medill professor. “But we found that reader regularity — which is the number of sessions or days someone reads something in a paper — was a much better metric for assessing health since it is a stronger predictor of subscriber retention than page views.”

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