One year ago this week, The Atlantic launched a new subscription strategy: introducing a metered model and offering three new annual subscription plans to give readers unlimited access to The Atlantic’s journalism. In an email to The Atlantic’s staff, shared below in full, president of Atlantic Media Michael Finnegan details the results of year one—and the accelerated plans to get to 1 million subscribers by December 2022, a goal that we moved ahead in May.
We earned more than 300,000 new subscriptions to The Atlantic in that first year. This is nearly three times the subscriptions we originally modeled reaching in two years.
As Michael writes, “First, we have to remember how we earn every subscription. Each of these readers chooses to support The Atlantic’s journalistic mission, one of moral urgency; of beautiful prose; of rigorously researched reporting, analysis, and debate. ...Every single person has placed a value, in tremendously difficult times, on The Atlantic’s extraordinary work. Readers decide to become subscribers only because of an exceptional product. And to this, there is no question. The Atlantic’s journalism has soared, bringing searing clarity to an often-clouded country and world.”
More details and learnings from the first year, and an outline of the path to 1 million subscribers, are shared below.
Memo to The Atlantic’s Staff
From Michael Finnegan, President of Atlantic Media
One year ago, we launched our new subscription strategy, beginning what we at the time called “a new chapter in the history of The Atlantic.” Even in saying those words then, I don’t think many of us realized how accurate they would be.
The headline is that in our first year, we earned more than 300,000 new subscriptions to The Atlantic. This result is astonishing by every measure. It is nearly three times the subscriptions we originally modeled reaching in two years. In fact, we accrued over 100,000 new subscribers in May and June alone, with each month surpassing 50,000.
I want to offer a couple of points of reflection here. First, we have to remember how we earn every subscription. Each of these readers chooses to support The Atlantic’s journalistic mission, one of moral urgency; of beautiful prose; of rigorously researched reporting, analysis, and debate. We have heard from thousands of first-time subscribers who found us during the pandemic. And from other subscribers, well into the latter stages of their lives, who have been reading us for decades. Every single person has placed a value, in tremendously difficult times, on The Atlantic’s extraordinary work.
Readers decide to become subscribers only because of an exceptional product. And to this, there is no question. The Atlantic’s journalism has soared, bringing searing clarity to an often-clouded country and world. A record number of readers have sought out The Atlantic over the past year. We reached nearly 90 million uniques in March, and across 2020, we are up more than 40 percent over our audience from 2019 for the same period.
Second, but just as importantly, The Atlantic stands apart––just as it has through its history in periods of great turmoil and transformation––helping our nation make sense of this time and consider a course forward. While the examples over the last year are too many to list, I can’t write without acknowledging the most recent. Jeffrey Goldberg’s reporting on the President’s comments about our armed forces last week has driven the national conversation. 10 million people have come to our site to read the story since it was published, and many more have become aware of it through our own follow-up reporting and news segments and analyses everywhere else. Our readers have demonstrated how much they value our reporting, with a record 20,000 subscriptions in just five days.
Now, turning to what this unprecedented subscription growth means. This summer, we outlined an updated business strategy to ensure the long-term financial stability of The Atlantic. That was, namely, an accelerated turn to consumer revenue and an aggressive new goal to reach 1 million subscribers by the end of 2022. David Bradley wrote at the time, “You might ask how ambitious is the goal? Highly ambitious. Even bracing. This is the sound of shifting gears in our consumer strategy.”
The goal of 1 million subscribers isn’t a mere vanity metric; it represents the crossing over into a position of greater financial stability for The Atlantic. It means that vast numbers of readers are contributing $50 million in revenue to our business and sustaining the work we are called to do. Arriving at this point will be nothing short of transformational––both in terms of balancing our revenue portfolio for the long-term and for setting us on a path of long-term loyalty from a growing body of dedicated subscribers to our journalism.
We are over halfway to our 1 million goal, and have just begun a critical moment: our first renewal cycle with those who joined us on this new journey within the last year—beginning, of course, with our most loyal early adopters who signed up the first moments of our metered paywall last September. Now one of our greatest responsibilities is to convince those hundreds of thousands of subscribers that we're worthy of their support for years, and decades, to come. Our focus will be on extraordinary journalism, exceptional user experience, products and features that encourage greater reader habit and loyalty, and a data and tech infrastructure that allows us constantly to learn and improve our offering.To help us on this path, we will be making some targeted and modest investments over the next year in editorial, product, engineering, and growth. The job listings you may have seen in recent weeks reflect that investment.
As we build our consumer-revenue discipline, we are at the same time bolstering our client-facing businesses at Atlantic Re:think, Atlantic 57, Atlantic Ventures, and AtlanticLIVE. These teams have been exceeding their revenue goals in an exceedingly challenged market, launching exciting new client partnerships and building an interdisciplinary collective to deliver a truly integrated, end-to-end client experience. Crossing over into sustainability, and into a thriving, independent journalism organization, is an all-enterprise affair, and the entire leadership team is grateful for the twin engines of B2B and consumer revenue driving The Atlantic forward.
This has been a hard year for the country, and for many of us personally. I am grateful for the opportunity to support The Atlantic and its mission, grateful for such wonderful colleagues who accelerate rather than slow down when faced with adversity, and grateful for our readers and clients who continue to support us in this work.
With deep appreciation for you all.