While the US is home to Silicon Valley and a host of innovative startups, there’s one area that hasn’t caught up with Europe. American news media lacks strong, resilient technology to support the switch to subscriptions. With research from Reuters finding that 52% of media executives will focus on reader revenues this year, European news media is at a great advantage. So what can American newspapers learn from Europe?
Reader revenue is crucial for sustainability
On either side of the Atlantic, it comes as no surprise that the newspaper industry is in trouble. With most news content available for free on websites and with declining advertising revenues, both publishers and readers are suffering. Readers seem to no longer find the value in paying for journalism, missing the valuable service of judgement and curation that journalism institutions used to provide, while publishers suffer from being stuck in advertising-based business models that are no longer profitable since the rise of ad-blocking technology.
That’s why many newspapers in Europe are switching to, or further enhancing, reader revenue strategies. While it’s true that as a whole Europe has had a stronger subscription culture over the years, they’ve had to learn and experiment to get to where they are today. This means American news media can benefit from these learnings as well.
Last year at Twipe we conducted interviews with nine leaders of American newspapers in order to better map the differences and similarities between these two markets. All acknowledged that they would need to move their newspapers toward paid content strategies in order to survive, with many finding signs that now is the right time to make the switch. These publishers believe that public opinion has shifted to understanding the need to pay for quality journalism.
We need to transition to the mindset where our content is extremely valuable, especially in the world of fake news, to know that what we’re producing is quality content, is fully vetted, under journalistic standards, and there is an appreciation for that, even from younger people these days.
VP of Audience Development at a major daily newspaper in the US
Exactly how American newspapers can make that transition is something we’re particularly interested in at Twipe. We look forward to continuing this conversation in personal meetings and sharing what’s been successful in Europe, make sure to sign up for a call.
Bringing 400 years of learning to digital
Unlike their European counterparts who have focused on building up reader revenues for a while, American newspapers on average have less mature subscription strategies. This is seen clearly in their digital products, particularly their edition products. With the first newspaper having been published in 1605 in Antwerp — not too far from Twipe’s office — the news media industry has over 400 years of experience with the edition concept.
At Twipe, we have long been believers in the power of editions. On our own platform, we see steady yearly growth on editions and that edition readers are more loyal and engaged for longer than other readers. The most common form of edition in the digital age today is the ePaper. While in Europe the ePaper is seen as a loyalty instrument to deeply engage readers, digital editions in the US have often not matured past pure replicas of the print editions, with only PDFs and limited functionalities.
Most American media companies don’t put a lot of stock in just reproducing their print product online because the belief is that the online user is looking for a different experience — not really interested in swiping through a newspaper.
-Senior VP of Digital News Products at a major daily newspaper in the US
Studies have found that 34% of European publishers see digital replicas as their biggest source of additional revenue, more so than even other news apps and websites. This is a massive missed opportunity for American newspapers — we know 31% of new subscribers decided to pay for digital news because they wanted access to content in a specific format they couldn’t get otherwise. We also know that there’s a pretty even split amongst news readers on how they prefer to consume news content: newsflow vs. edition.
- Edition: a daily bundled package of content, with a clear beginning and end
- Newsflow: a continuously updated stream of information throughout the day
By not investing in their ePapers, American newspapers are overlooking half of their audience that prefers the edition format. In Europe, digital editions have matured far beyond the pure Replica format, such as the digital-only evening edition from Ouest-France or La Matinale from Le Monde which uses Tinder-like swiping and Instagram-like Stories to reach a younger news audience. By adding videos, games, and more engaging content, newspapers can use their digital editions to reach new segments of readers and to become part of the daily routine of their existing readers.
Signs of edition innovators emerging in the US
Still, we are seeing signs of edition innovations springing up in the US. One example that stands out is McClatchy, the national media group with such titles as Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Miami Herald. With earlier and earlier print deadlines meaning last minute news such as sports scores are not able to be included in the next day’s print edition, McClatchy has turned to what they’re calling “Extras” in their digital editions. These extra sections are shared over all their titles, with specific themes such as home and garden on Saturdays or movies on Fridays. This is helping McClatchy digital subscribers to realise more value in their subscription and make the digital edition part of their daily routine.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, owned by WEHCO Media, is another American newspaper that has a focus on its digital edition. After pushing their readers to try out their digital edition, a survey found that 70% were reading the digital edition as frequently as they had previously read the print edition and many said they even preferred the digital edition to print.
We believe we have found a way to return the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to profitability and provide a better and more robust reading experience for our subscribers. To do that, we need all of our subscribers to embrace the iPad replica newspaper experience.
Walter E. Hussman Jr. publisher of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Of course, this step to embracing Replica is just the first part of a long journey. When we look to Europe, we see many innovative ways publishers are embracing editions, such as NextGen or digital-only editions. In our recent discussions with American publishers, we’ve been pleasantly surprised however with how edition products are starting to take the spotlight. One publisher we spoke to explained how their digital edition was the only paid-for digital product they have, after they removed their paywall. They had never really valued this product but after taking a second look, they realised how important it was, both in terms of financial contribution but also in developing loyalty and daily habits for readers.
ePaper in the spotlight
In this new series “ePaper in the Spotlight”, we will continue to explore how publishers can best utilise the ePaper. Do get in touch with us with any interesting ePaper examples you think we have missed!
This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.