Newspapers succeeding by returning to edition-based publishing

10 July 2018
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After years of looking to the future for what will ‘save journalism’, including digital kiosks, pivots to video, and social media, it’s something a bit more old-school that is helping newspapers succeed in today’s digital world: a return to edition-based publishing. More and more publishers are finding that creating packaged publications with a beginning and an end is helping them better engage their readers than the typical news flow websites.

Newspapers do have unique attributes. At a time of limitless information and limited time, they provide the valuable service of selection and judgment for readers and an informed hierarchy of importance. They also enable the satisfaction of completion, a contrast with the wormholes of the web.

John Ridding, CEO of The Financial Times in The Drum

How editions serve the largest group of readers

There are many reasons publishers are returning to editions: they increases the value of the product bundle, increase subscriber retention, create new reading habits, and they have a huge growth potential. Editions also reach the largest group of news readers, according to Reuters: the 44% of readers who are daily briefers. These readers like to be briefed once a day, and appreciate the structure, completeness, and depth of editions.

There’s no need to pit print versus digital here, having a digital edition can also help your print edition succeed. Publishers such as The Globe and Mail in Canada and Aachener Zeitung in Germany are using data from their digital editions to determine what to focus on in their print editions, while Belgian regional L’Avenir used data from the only analytics tool designed for editions to determine the order of the sections in their print paper.

Digital editions also help to deepen reader loyalty for the whole product offering. Subscribers with both print and digital access are more likely to continue their subscription, in part because they are able to use the digital edition to supplement their reading of the print newspaper, such as when they are traveling.

How The Times and The Sunday Times have grown their digital subscribers through editions

One of the strongest proponents of an edition-based approach is the The Times and The Sunday Times from the UK. In 2016, they moved away from the constant onslaught of digital news to a focus on creating three updates for their digital editions each day. In the first year of this digital transformation, The Times and The Sunday Times have seen massive growth, with users of the paid-for mobile app up 30% and the average number of pageviews up 300%.

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

This return to edition-based publishing has meant that the view of The Times and The Sunday Times as an authoritative voice has been strengthened. During the Westminster attack last year, The Times and The Sunday Times resisted sending breaking-news updates as other British dailies did, which as Digiday’s Jessica Davies points out, were sometimes misreported. Instead, they focused on providing a deeper analysis, something their readers have come to rely on them for. This reporting strategy led to a record day for smartphone traffic, making it clear that readers value the distinctive voice.

Recently News UK, owners of the Times titles, announced that their digital subscribers outnumber print subscribers for the first time. Subscriptions for the digital-only bundle rose 20% year-on-year, with The Times and The Sunday Times now having a combined 500,000 subscribers.

Why now is the perfect time to focus more on your digital edition

While at Twipe we’ve long been believers in the importance of edition-based publishing, it seems the rest of the industry is just catching on now. Apple recently announced it would help mobile users better track the time spent on apps, giving a clearer picture of their ‘digital health’. At the time, we posited that this new development would mean we might see more publishers turning to time-constrained editions, such as The Guardian’s LabRdr experiment which gave commuters exactly enough content to read on their way home.

Let this overall trend be a reminder to publishers that there are real benefits to constrained user experiences. A morning email newsletter eventually ends; a podcast eventually ends; your news site and your social feeds effectively don’t. We see this in a lot of third-party apps, but there are still good ways yet to be designed for a news publisher to give its users the satisfying message: “That’s it, you’re all caught up — check in tonight or tomorrow morning.

Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab

With the benefits of edition-based publishing become more clear, we expect to see more publishers focusing on their editions, whether it be as new digital-only products, complements to their print newspaper, or simply serving as a more engaging online reading experience. Plus now with Reuters reporting a global growth in the number of people willing to pay for online news, perhaps it’s the exact right moment for more newspapers to start experimenting with their digital editions.

While we’ve seen a plethora of examples in Europe, as well as more editions popping up in Africa, we’ve yet to see a strong example from an American publisher. We’ll examine the US market for edition-based publishing in an article later this month, sign up to be sent an early copy of the report.

Learn more about our research Reinventing Digital Editions

Some newspapers have created new digital editions to better serve specific reader needs that their website couldn’t achieve. For example, when French regional publisher Ouest-France saw that its readers wanted something more lighthearted to read in the evenings after work, they created L’Edition du Soir, the first digital-only evening newspaper in France. In the five years since the launch, L’Edition du Soir has grown to reach almost 2 million unique monthly readers. On the other hand, both Le Monde and The Economist realised that their readers wanted to have a quick “shot of news” in the mornings, so they created La Matinale and The Espresso respectively. By creating content that is meant to be consumed in one sitting, these publishers have helped to create daily habits in their readers. For more on how publishers are succeeding with digital-only editions, make sure to read our latest research report “Reinventing Digital Editions” which covers these case studies and more.

This year South African media group Tiso Blackstar Group also launched a digital-only edition after closing down their print newspapers. Now each weekday readers of “Times Select” receive a collection of stories that should take them 20 minutes to read, helping to rise above the noise. Next week we will have an interview with Lisa MacLeod, Head of Digital, on what the team has learned from launching this digital-only edition.

This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.

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