As we have heard in previous years, during discussions with publishers this year, we often noticed higher standards applied to websites than edition products. With the high levels of engagement we see on digital editions, this is a surprising decision. Why does it seem that the most loyal readers are the ones that publishers invest the least in? Just because the product is replicating something from the ‘past’, the print newspaper, doesn’t mean that the technology itself should be just as old.
Today we are sharing some of the biggest mistakes we have seen regarding ePapers over our nine years of focusing on this product and technology. Get in touch if you think other mistakes belong on this list, or if you have questions on how to avoid these mistakes!
1. Limiting the digital edition to a copy of the print newspaper
This is something we still see happening in the industry with publishers often viewing their digital edition apps or web versions as just another channel to distribute their print newspaper. But there are numerous ways to enrich the experience for your most loyal readers when distributing the edition digitally.
For example McClatchy in the US has an “Extra” section in their digital editions to include content that didn’t make it to print. As printing deadlines have grown even earlier in recent years, last-minute news such as sports scores or election results can often not be included and digital editions are a great way to address that problem.
Publishers can also benefit from leveraging the digital nature of their ePapers to include more engaging enrichments. Allowing readers to play puzzles and games directly in the edition experience is a great retention tool. On our platform, Ouest-France’s L’Edition du Soir has seen a significant portion of its page views come from their puzzle and game section recently.
2. Don’t forget audio in your edition strategy
The importance of audio is nothing new to most publishers, but often this learning doesn’t translate over to the digital edition strategy. Publishers on our edition platform have started to make use of voice over for individual articles, which can provide a different news experience while also improving accessibility for a variety of subscribers.
For The Economist, their “audio edition” product has been an important engagement tool since 2007. They have further invested in their audio edition during the pandemic, due to the strong, positive impact it has on retention.
Our evidence suggests that the audio edition is a very effective retention tool; once you come to rely on it, you won’t unsubscribe.Tom Standage, Deputy Editor, The Economist
3. Digital editions can go beyond PDFs
While the print replica of your newspaper, commonly called an ePaper, is an important product, it is not the only edition product. We were inspired by the example of The Telegraph this year, which focused solely on a digital-first look and feel for their daily edition product. This means there is no more PDF involved.
Based on a set of 30 carefully designed templates, The Telegraph’s digital edition is now built daily using the Twipe NextGen technology. Since the launch of this new edition product, The Telegraph has seen a 30% growth in daily active users. The collaboration between the two teams was a key factor in success. We applied principles of agile development and design thinking to enable fast feedback loops between Twipe and The Telegraph to the point that the distinction between provider and customer was not felt by either team. We are proud to serve as innovation partners for the team at The Telegraph.
4. Lacking a discoverability strategy for your digital edition
Previous research has shown there’s a great interest in editions, but many readers just haven’t found the right product fit for them yet. Over all age groups and a variety of countries, we found an even split between readers that prefer the constantly updating “newsflow” experience like on a website, versus those that preferred an overall briefing that an edition product provides.
One of the reasons for this gap is a limited focus on discoverability for edition products. Most publishers have their digital edition entirely behind a paywall, often not even showing any type of content if the user is not subscribed and logged in. This means it can be difficult to convert new readers into edition readers as there is a total lack of sampling. We think this is a missed opportunity to include the ePaper in acquisition strategies.
For example, on our platform, we encourage the use of metered social sharing, so that when an article from the ePaper is shared on social, non-subscribers can still swipe left or right to additional articles in the edition before hitting the paywall.
Even once someone has tried the digital edition, it is important to make it easy for them to read again. It is often very difficult to find the ePaper on a publisher’s website. A small bit of text somewhere might say “Today’s paper” or “Print newspaper”, but readers who haven’t experienced the ePaper before can easily skip over it. Instead we recommend highlighting your ePaper with an updated thumbnail of each day’s edition.
5. Not investing in a complete product experience
In recent years, many publishers have focused on their product portfolio, making sure they optimize each product and provide a strong experience for readers. Somehow edition products have been left out of this review. Research shows that edition readers are more loyal, less likely to seek out free news, and engage with news content for longer reading sessions. With this in mind, we have seen a few features that can go overlooked on edition products.
The first area of improvement is ensuring all ePapers have PDF quality for pinch to zoom reading. While most ePapers have what we call “article lightboxes“, where readers can click on an article to open it up full screen, the majority of reading is still done in pinch to zoom mode. Our research shows that only 25% of readers click on the article lightboxes. That means that ePapers without PDF quality are providing a poor user experience to the majority of their readers.
Another area to focus on is speed, especially to attract a younger audience that is accustomed to lighting fast digital experiences. For example, The Telegraph’s optimisation of their homepage speed (going from 9 seconds to load to 5.5 seconds), resulted in a 49% increase in subscription conversion and a 12% increase in pageviews from subscribers. Just as this year saw more publishers focused on improving the speed of their website, we hope next year more publishers will invest in faster ePaper platforms.
6. Don’t overlook the habit formation power of editions
Habit formation strategies have been an important topic for many publishers this year, especially as the pandemic meant news audiences experienced unprecedented changes to their daily routines, which offered a rare opportunity to quickly create new habits. With this heavy focus on habit formation, it’s important to prioritise the product that generations of people already have a habit with: the newspaper edition, whether that be in print or digital. With more publishers needing to reduce print days, it will be key to be able to offer readers a familiar experience in digital.
After all, the edition is a product that has been refined over hundreds of years to best serve readers and make it easy to explore a wide breadth of journalism. It is also a product that readers have been educated over generations about how to consume. Not leveraging this product would be a big oversight.
This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.