Folha's Subscription Battle

Folha increased its subscriptions, but the expansion of digital base hides challenges

What was the trajectory of Folha's subscriptions in 2019? On paper, the year was good.
From January to November, the number of newspaper subscribers grew 7%, reaching an average of 320,792 copies in the period, and maintaining Folha as the largest newspaper in the country.

The data comes from the IVC, Communication Verification Institute, which audits newspapers.
Subscription information is relevant as it tells the reader how sustainable your newspaper is.
With the copies in the newsstand, Folha reaches the end of the year with 328,351 units sold, ahead, therefore, of the other two largest Brazilian newspapers: O Globo (322,209) and the Estadão de S. Paulo (242,091).

Month by month, data suggest that President Jair Bolsonaro's attacks on the newspaper were in favor of Folha. November, the month the president raised the tone against the newspaper, was one of the best of the year, with 2,640 new subscriptions. "In the moments of the most direct attacks on Folha, the public mobilized in the following days," said Antonio Manuel Teixeira Mendes, Grupo Grupo superintendent.

Som readers who disagreed with the newspaper coverage unsubscribed. Although, according to Mendes, it would be in Folha's "DNA."

There were three months of negative balance. The worst of them was July, with 800 fewer subscriptions.

Without diving into the numbers, it is difficult to understand the cause. In the period, criticism of stories produced from conversations obtained by The Intercept was among the most commented topics in emails sent to the ombudsman, many threatening to unsubscribe from the newspaper.

On the positive side, March, April, and May garnered more than 29,000 new subscriptions.
The newspaper responded with Google's partnership to provide free access to Folha Digital to public school teachers for one year.

Only paid subscriptions enter the IVC count. The column found that accounting was only possible because Google paid at least part of the value of subscriptions.

Over a more extended period, the rise and fall of subscriptions hides far greater challenges.
Since being benchmarked in 2012, digital signatures have soared. With print, however, the opposite has been happening for the last two decades.

In 2000, Folha had an average of 440,655 printed subscribers. Since then, Folha lost more than 350,000 print subscriptions — more than Folha's current circulation.

In 2019, until November, the subscription of the printed paper fell 13.3%. The digital rose 17%, which is positive. But the picture is not that simple.

The full subscription to print now costs about four times that of digital. Admittedly, the digital newspaper has almost no printing and distribution costs, but it lives on technology — beyond fixed expenses, such as labor.

Are subscriptions and digital fees sufficient to cover these expenses?
The question is especially pertinent because, in recent years, subscriptions have come to account for an increasing share of newspaper revenue.

A few years ago, this role was in the ad, swallowed up by giants Google and Facebook.
Moreover, the full price of the subscription is far from telling the whole story. In times of social media, there is a substantial discount policy that also affects newspaper revenue.

The good news is that in order to attract more subscribers, in addition to providing promotions for teachers, basic procedures should help.

A reasonable portion of the 2,270 emails I received since May, when I took over, come from readers who want to subscribe to the newspaper, but come across an interface they consider bureaucratic, subscription requests left waiting, or unviable data required for those not living in Brazil. It had been old print distribution problems, especially in other states.

The newspaper should also diversify the subscriber base, which, at least until 2018, had an older and more male profile. Without neglecting them, the newspaper needs to attract more women, youth, blacks, and suburbanites.

In 2021 Folha will celebrate 100 years. We need to show how — and under what conditions — w can walk with such vigor.

I wish everyone a better 2020. I will write again in this space in February.

Flavia lima
A reporter specializing in economics, she holds a degree in social science from USP and a law degree from Mackenzie. She has been an ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon