What we learned about successful products at the International Journalism Festival

If you are at all active on Twitter, you probably couldn’t escape the fact that the International Journalism Festival was held in Perugia this past week. Over five days, this free conference discussed all aspects of the journalism industry. This week we’re taking those learnings and applying them to digital product strategies to better understand what’s successful and what isn’t.

Are we investing enough in our product experiences?

We started with an intro to product 101 from The Guardian’s Ana Jakimovska, RISJ’s Lucy Kueng and Nic Newman, and Lippe Oosterhof from Yahoo News. They’ve seen that the most successful media companies are the ones that have a clear understanding of their product across the entire company. That requires strong product managers, who serve in more than just a delivery role, becoming a true strategic advisor. This is because it is simply not possible for an Editor in Chief to understand all the possible technology, so they need to be able to trust the product people to understand and give guidance.

Secondly, investment in technical products is required to succeed. In a panel on business models, Frédéric Filloux, editor of the Monday Note, explained that he believes most publishers today are vastly under-investing in their technology at every level, as having a subscription model puts publishers in competition with other subscription services, such as Netflix. Nic Newman echoed this, explaining that consumer expectations are based on the great products they use everyday, and many of them are not finding these same great experiences with their media products. 

Quality content alone will not save journalism

Often for journalists the content itself is the product, but readers do not see it this way. Instead, the whole experience of consuming the content is the product. We know that good content is not enough to overcome poor UX, but success also requires a rethink of other aspects of the reader relationship.

One way this can be done is through a membership program, which was discussed in a panel with Lea Korsgaard of Zetland; Amanda Michel from The Guardian; Maria Ramirez from eldiario.es, and Eduardo Suarez of Politibot. A membership program enables you to have a better understanding of your readers–something Zetland learned when they asked readers why they became members. Many members cited the limited number of stories as one of the primary reasons they became a member, which Lea Korsgaard explains as:

“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

So even if Zetland were to invest in producing more quality content, this wouldn’t be something members would want to pay more for. Instead, members are more interested in related experiences and products, such as live journalism shows or audio offering of the longform articles.

Publishers should also educate their readers about the realities of the newspaper industry today. A panel on sustaining journalism through relationships explored this idea with insights coming from Hearken’s Jennifer Brandel, Andrew Haeg of GroundSource; Mary Walter-Brown of News Revenue Hub, and Ariel Zirulnick from the Membership Puzzle Project.

“We’re not going to be around to have these discussions on deeper engagement if we don’t get our readers to fund us.” – Mary Walter-Brown, Founder and CEO News Revenue Hub

Amanda Michel advised publishers to take what they do best and use it to solve their funding crisis. Newsrooms tell stories, but they need to be telling their own story as well. That’s why The Guardian explains to readers that advertising revenues are declining so newspapers need reader support to continue.

Next steps: including audio in your product strategy

To be successful in the long run, publishers will need to already be planning for their product strategies of tomorrow. For many, that means focusing on audio today. We heard some great insights in a panel on audio with the BBC’s Mukul Devichand, Renée Kaplan of the Financial Times, Nic Newman from RISJ, and Swedish Radio’s Olle Zachrison.

We need to remember audio doesn’t simply mean podcasts and podcasts aren’t just radio on a different platform. That means that while often today publishers are focusing on podcasts, this is only a slice of a potential audio strategy. It also means that successful podcasts are not just radio shows, but have a changed aesthetic. Often listeners of radio do this apart from the radio, such as in a car or having the radio on across the room, but podcasts are inherently a much more intimate experience, often directly in the listener’s ear via headphones. Even for legacy audio organisations, such as Swedish Radio, a switch to podcasts requires a cultural revolution. Olle Zachrison explained that so far radio people have been too stuck in the studio, whereas modern audio needs to be done on the field, talking to people. 

The panel agreed that publishers do need to be investing in audio now. While Nic Newman explained that only a small percentage of smart speaker usage is for news content currently, Mukul Devichand argued this doe not mean smart speakers are insignificant. The successful publishers of the future will be the ones who are experimenting and learning on these platforms toady. 

Finally, we cannot forget the monetisation aspect of our audio discussions. We know that ads for audio are big in the United States, but they are not as big in Europe, and such ads cannot be used in the same way to monetise shorter audio clips. That’s why Nic Newman believes a subscription or membership model will come for audio, and it will be enabled by mainstream audio platforms. For Renée Kaplan, monetisation is more than just revenue, it is also the measurable impact on loyalty and engagement, something the Financial Times is betting audio will be uniquely good at engendering the kind of loyalty a paid content strategy needs.

This question of audio monetisation is something we are especially interested in at Twipe this year. That’s why we’ve launched a new series “The Business of Audio“. We will be releasing the next article in this series soon, which we want to be shaped by questions, comments, or requests by our readers. Send us any thoughts you have on the business of audio for news.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

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