Bundles, AI, Analytics and Apps: What are the future value creators for publishers?

Earlier this year, some of you took part in a survey about reader revenue strategies and technology trends – thanks to all who responded! The results of these will be included in the next research report from the Reinventing Digital Editions series (sign-up here for an early copy).

Today, we share a sneak peak from the early analysis with a focus on the key trends in subscription strategies, technologies and edition-based publishing.

“Bundle Subscriptions” second most valuable trend for publishers

The level of growth that digital subscriptions have created in recent years has been fascinating to follow, especially with the competition from other subscription services. Success for publishers has been widespread. In France, Le Monde recently announced that they have now passed 400,000 paying digital subscribers. In the USA, the New York Times success story has continued, with the publisher reporting at the end of Q2 that they have 7.1 million digital subscribers.

Close behind, our research found that bundle subscription products remain popular. The value of these subscriptions should not be ignored. Print is still a product that brings in far more money to publishers due to its’ physical nature. WAN-IFRA identified print circulation as generating $54 billion despite its’ decline. This is a figure much higher than the $6.9 billion of digital. Closing this gap is important for publishers, but a life for print still seems to exist until this revenue can be made up, with that in bundle form. This rings true in our research, with bundle subscriptions predicted to become more important (42.5%).

This trend was confirmed in our research amongst publishers. Unsurprisingly, it uncovered that digital advertising and digital subscriptions (both 43.8%) currently create the most value for publishers. With the ongoing digital transformation in newsrooms across the world and the pandemic halting print, this trend was rather expected.

Going forward, publishers clearly see digital subscriptions as the overwhelming favourite revenue stream (68.8%). This is a clear consolidation for digital products in the newspaper industry and signals a cementing of the shift towards digital. With Markus Schöberl informing us that there is no upper limit on people willing to pay, there is hope for a digital subscription revenue future.

The 3A’s for Tech: AI, Analytics and Apps are the technologies with most perceived value for growth

As newsrooms go more digital, the role of technology is increasingly important. Many seem to have already leveraged the power of technology in several different areas, with some publishers experimenting even with more advanced technologies such as AI.

Among the publishers who responded to the survey, the technologies that are perceived to make most difference over the next 5 years are AI, Analytics and Apps.

Artificial Intelligence most striking growth in perceived importance

The most striking however was the perceived impact of AI. Whilst only 31.2% of publishers are currently making use of any AI technologies, 68.8% believe that it will play a key role in the future. Use of AI can provide untold potential for publishers. With the JAMES Personalised Reading List we have seen publishers driving up to 26% more habitual reading among their subscribers.

But there is still a long way to go. We heard also Steven van Belleghem recently telling the Digital Growth Summit that publishers have barely scratched the surface with AI.

Analytics is and remains the number 1 impactful technology

Newsrooms are in the process of undergoing an audience transformation to succeed in the battle for subscribers, therefore understanding readers is key. It is good news that 87.5% of publishers currently use analytics in their newsroom, and this continues to be the top difference maker for the next 5 years.

Analytics can help both newsrooms and business teams to decide which stories work and which don’t and how to best segment and engage readers. Publishers such as DuMont or Le Monde use Twipe’s EngageReaders Edition Analytics to understand readers, identify early on the Readers at Risk to churn and activate their inactive subscribers.

Apps become even more key on publishers strategies

With the increasing use of smartphones as the number one tool to access the news, especially amongst younger readers, mobile apps are key. It has become essential for publishers to offer apps to their readers and especially subscribers. 57.5% of publishers currently offer a live news app and 55% offer an edition app.

Most interestingly when looking ahead to the future, 37.5% publishers plan to combine these into a unified app offering both live news and editions in one experience. Some publishers across the world have already made this change in a bid to simplify their offering, avoid confusion for readers and drive a coherent reading experience. In the UK, the Daily Telegraph, chose to combine their live news and edition app and has recently passed the mark of 500,000 digital subscribers. 

Aside from live and edition apps, some other types of apps are also emerging among the surveyed publishers. 10% of respondents answered that they are already offering a separate puzzle and game apps, and 8.8% offer audio apps. This trend has been pioneered by publishers such as The Guardian with their puzzles and games app and The New York Times with the incredible growth of their cooking app.

This changing in importance of traditional and advanced technology signals a desire for newsrooms to continue to advance their digital offering, something we have seen in both large and small newsrooms such as Svenska Dagbladet and Mitt Media

Elsewhere with more traditional technology, 87.5% of respondents highlighted that they already use video in their newsrooms and 68.8% audio. The appeal of video and audio however slips down the rankings to 53.8% and 57.5% respectively, but both still seem to have an important role to play.

70% predict editions to play an important role in the future

Editions are the traditional, habit-forming products in news and remain important for publishers. In fact the edition has become more important with the cutting of print during the pandemic and the fact that the edition is a great tool to welcome readers into the digital experience.

As publishers undergo their digital transition, the signs for the future of editions also look bright with 69.7% of publishers predict that editions will play an important role in their future, be it in their ePaper format or as new digital editions, such as The Daily Telegraph or “The Lede” – a new fascinating case from US Publisher Advance Local that we will cover soon.

While 71.2% of publishers already offer a replica ePaper it is interesting to see that among the ones not currently having an edition product, an overwhelming preference of 71.4% respondents prefer a digitally built edition and just 7.1% prefer a replica.

1 key reason for this is the appeal of a new generation of user experience towards younger readers. The ability to style these newspapers in a more modern way is vital so that edition products can be seen to be more appealing and less like something from the past. We have seen this with publishers like Ouest-France and the building of their Edition du Soir, which has gone from 0 to 8 million readers. 

Matthew Lynes
Media Innovation Analyst @ Twipe

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