Be patient with the LA Times’s low subscriber numbers

Nieman Labs has some interesting analysis around the low digital subscriber numbers for the LA Times, which currently stands at fewer than 200,000, compared to 2.7m New York Times paid members, and 1.7m for the Post.

There is a business to be had selling digital subscriptions to newspapers. But it’s a business dominated by two papers on the East Coast. Papers that used to have competitive scale in print — where the limitations of physical distribution gave them market power — just aren’t able to play on the same field as the big boys in digital. That’s the barbell shape: a couple heavyweights on one end of the spectrum, a lot of small fry on the other, no one in between.

The LA Times could be the “in between”, the piece suggests, but more investment in attracting readers is needed.

I’d argue a few things in defence of the newspaper and its efforts. First, it’s surely too early to be judging the “new” LA Times just yet – it was only brought under new ownership last year. Second, the paper had shrunk into something much more damaged than what Jeff Bezos picked up when he acquired the Washington Post – so there’s a lot more of the basics to rebuild first to get the LA Times back on track.

And third, there is an unquestionable Trump bump for the papers on the East Coast, and subscribers have flocked to them in the hope of understanding a crazy political world. The LA Times really can’t compete with that. It just feels too distant.

The communities most affected by politics in Los Angeles are, for reasons of lower wealth, not your typical newspaper subscriber. The middle classes seem more content to casually keep up with news about the city, rather than subscribe to a paper that still has work to do to show readers it is turning things around and becoming a vital read.

And the most wealthy people in LA… well they live on a different planet altogether.

As ever with subscriptions, the strategy must be to be distinct. The LA Times needs to look at its product, and its city, and find out what they can put in their paper that nobody else can offer.