James Henderson, CEO of Zephr – Interview – Government incentives could be the ticket to kickstart media subscriptions

James henderson zephyr

James Henderson is CEO and Founder of Zephr, a tech startup focused on helping organisations boost subscriber numbers through more effective customer journey management.

We caught up with James to get his views on the media subscription industry during covid-19.


Earlier this month the French Government announced the availability of tax credits for any person who bought a subscription to a current affairs newspaper or magazine – a worrying sign of the times for the media industry, or an inspired intervention?

If we don’t want valued media institutions to be replaced by tech platforms and our news feeds to be entirely dictated by algorithms, I’m inclined to think the latter.

Indeed, given the worrying data we’re seeing in the UK, which shows sharp decreases in advertising revenues and a further loss of up to £50m due to the blacklisting of ad words related to coronavirus, there’s a strong case that the UK Government should follow in the footsteps of the French.

COVID-19 has inflicted great damage upon the publishing and news media industry and left publishers increasingly reliant upon digital subscriptions that are underdeveloped and have yet to capture consumers’ imagination (or spend). While it’s generally acknowledged that the UK Government has already been propping up the media industry, replacing the shortfall in ad revenues by buying up space for COVID public service announcements, this strategy can’t be sustained indefinitely. Consumers have to be encouraged to start paying for content again.

Hence, Government funds would be better directed into reinvigorating long-term consumer engagement with our media. A subscriptions incentive programme could inject much-needed energy into the media and publishing industry, giving all outlets a platform from which to restate their value and renew their relationship with audiences.

There’s no doubt mistakes have been made during the ongoing struggle to monetise our media content. Some publishers have been too quick to lock their editorial behind inflexible paywalls; others have diluted the digital experience by overloading on ad-supported content. These businesses need to get smarter about how they offer and manage subscriptions, and explore better ways of getting audiences engaged with their content before they sign up.

Right now, however, the industry would also benefit from a helping hand. The French Government has set the precedent – perhaps it’s time that the UK follows suit.