Why digital editions are growing even in today’s world of breaking news

Just this week, European media organisations reported some very impressive figures on their ePaper products. In France, while there has been a 3.6% decline in print circulation last year, there has been a growth of 24.8% for digital editions. Similarly in Germany, the ePaper circulation has increased by 14.1% in Q1 2020 versus the previous year.

So what can explain this growth of digital editions? Join us as we dig into why 2020 truly is the year of the ePaper, which has only become even more true with the coronavirus crisis.

Curation is a valuable service worth paying for

There are many different forms of digital editions today, from the classic ePaper to digital-only editions, while even newsletters can be considered a type of edition. No matter the shape, all editions have one thing in common: clear structure with a clear beginning and end. There’s no need to refresh to see if there is new content.

While some publishers feel editions are limiting exactly because they are stagnant, this is why readers find them valuable. In today’s world of constant updates on the pandemic, many people are struggling with news fatigue and feel they cannot stay on top of the news. That’s one reason why Danish digital newspaper Zetland gives their subscribers just two stories each weekday. The team calls this the “finishable feature”, as in giving readers a realistic chance to complete all of their daily content.

Finishability is an important aspect of news products, and this is something readers find worth paying for. 

Lea Korsgaard, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Zetland

Even beyond the world of editions, publishers in general are beginning to find value in limiting their story production. The team at The Guardian cut their weekly story production by 1/3 and saw that traffic actually went up, while The Times of London found something similar when they cut their Home News section by 15% and saw engagement levels rise. Research from the Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University in the US found that people who read more news stories are not more likely to keep their subscriptions, but in some cases even less likely to remain subscribers. While at the time this seemed surprising, perhaps it has to do with this reader desire to be able to “finish the news”.

Readers are ready for a slow down of the news

While “slow news” has become a bit of a buzzword, it truly is nothing new: ever since the first newspaper was published in 1605, we’ve been producing mainly slow news. It’s only recently that we’ve had the ability to deliver news as soon as it happens. This has led some in the industry to seemingly have the main goal of breaking news, not necessarily explaining news.

The power of an edition has endured at The Times for more than 230 years. Our challenge is to update this concept for the digital age: to put readers first and cut through the babble.

John Witherow, Editor of The Times

Yet there are some publishers that have taken bold moves away from the breaking news game, such as The Times and The Sunday Times who announced in 2016 they were no longer chasing breaking news, but instead focusing on providing the in-depth analysis their subscribers valued most. It doesn’t mean they aren’t responding to breaking news, but instead making sure they provide the necessary context and background information as well. This approach has been successful: in the first year alone, they saw massive growth with users of the paid-for mobile app up 30% and the average number of pageviews up 300%.

There have also been new media startups founded in the mindset of slow news, such as Tortoise Media. With a motto of “Slow down, wise up”, they don’t put out news as it happens, but instead only when it is ready. Paying members receive a daily digital edition via the app and email, with the most common reason for joining stated as a need to the “news has become noise” problem.

[Tortoise] is the antidote to the endless news feed. We promise [our readers] something that fits into their lives, something they can finish, that’s quality, thoughtful and that they can be part of.

Katie Vanneck-Smith, Tortoise Media co-founder and publisher

Keep the daily reading habit alive

Digital editions also share the special habit-forming feature of newspapers: they are published at a specific frequency instead of being constantly updated. The publishing rhythm can be every morning at 6 or once a week on Sundays, but the important part is that it is predictable. Whether it is print or digital, readers expect the publication to always be available for them at this time and in turn have built it into their daily routines — this element of fixed time is something The New York Times CEO Mark Thompson has recently credited as key to their digital growth.

That’s why publishers that have been struggling to get their print papers out in the current coronavirus crisis are turning more and more to their digital editions. It is not the first time publishers have turned to their ePapers in times of crisis, for example we know of one publisher in a cold environment that has “Code White” days, where due to snow they are not able to deliver their print newspapers so instead they open up their digital replica to all subscribers.

We have never seen more interest in digital newspaper edition reading than last month. People are not only hungry for news, they are also looking for a good mix of analysis, infotainment and brainteasers included in their digital newspaper. 

Danny Lein, CEO and Founder of Twipe

This transition from print to digital is one that has been in the works for a while for many publishers, but they’ve had to speed up their plans. It is also why we have seen record demand on our platform since the pandemic began, with overall usage increasing by 55% from February to March.

How to succeed with digital edition-based publishing

We’re starting to see more and more publishers realise the value their ePaper has, which is why we launched the series “ePaper in the Spotlight” (make sure to subscribe to receive all the updates). Earlier we launched a survey to see how many publishers in our community have taken the time to analyse the profit their ePaper has brought. Most publishers were pleasantly surprised, finding that a product they haven’t put too much time or resources into is actually growing and retaining their subscriber base. In these trying economic times, it is important for publishers to invest in the products that are retaining their most loyal subscribers.

For more on how to succeed with edition-based publishing, make sure to download our free eBook.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe
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