2020 – The Year of the Edition

Last week, the Reuters Institute called for the “revival of editions” in 2020. In our recent conversations with publishers, we have also started to see signs of a shift towards reinvesting in edition products. That’s why we believe 2020 will be the year of the edition.

Understanding what exactly an edition is in the digital age is especially important for publishers as editions readers are more loyal and valuable. On our own platform, we see steady yearly growth on editions and more engaged readers. With that in mind, we have crafted a definition of what exactly an edition is.

Join us we explore why all types of news consumers today prefer to receive their news in the edition format, and what this trend will mean for publishers’ product development strategies this year.

More publishers identify the split in reading preferences

Last year we ran research on reader preferences and found an even split in all age groups for readers that prefer newsflow formats and those who prefer edition formats. This finding echos similar research from The Boston Globe when they launched their new website in 2011: they found there was a roughly even split amongst readers who preferred to have the most recent news on the homepage (a continuous flow of news) versus those who wanted just the most important news highlighted in a well-designed product.

Half the audience wanted the most recent news on the homepage. The other half wanted to see just “the most important” news of the day on the homepage. Like in print.

Damon Kiesow, former senior product manager at The Boston Globe

Furthermore, the edition concept can refer to many different products: from the print replica, to a digital native edition and even to other products such as newsletters or podcasts.

Leverage your past to drive future growth

We know how important product thinking will be in the coming years, so what better place to start than with a product that has been perfected over 400 years? Since the first newspaper was published in 1605 (Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien for you trivia buffs), the industry has innovated on the edition concept to find the best designs, the perfect story mix, and more to engage their readers.

This careful crafting of an edition product enables a nicer reading experience, as it has been designed to be consumed as a whole product versus a website which is meant to be consumed in bits and pieces. In a bundle of content, it is possible to build a narrative and place stories in the specific order they are meant to be consumed. That’s part of what makes editions so valuable, they provide a curated alternative to today’s typical digital newsflow product. Instead of a free-for-all social media feed or disjointed website, editions provide the act of editorial selection that is so valuable for readers. Someone who has seen the stories of the day has taken the time to curate the important news and placed them in a carefully thought-out order.

Finishability as a service

An edition has a clear beginning and end, there’s no need to refresh to see if there is new content. That’s why we say editions provide the satisfaction of finishability. Today’s news readers are struggling with news fatigue, feeling they can never stay on top of the news. So while some publishers feel editions are limiting because they are stagnant, a snapshot of the news at one moment in the day, this is exactly why readers find them valuable. They know they can read these specific stories and step away for the day — they can “finish” the news.

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

Publishers are beginning to find more value in limiting their story production as well. The team at The Guardian recently cut their weekly story production by 1/3 and saw that traffic actually went up. The Times of London found something similar when they cut their Home News section by 15% and saw engagement levels rise. Recent 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”.

Key for habit formation

Another aspect that makes editions so special is the specific frequency in which they are published. It can be every morning at 6 or once a week on Sundays, but the important part is that it is predictable. Readers come to expect the edition to be available for them at this time, and in turn build it in to their daily routines. In a recent interview, The New York Times CEO Mark Thompson credited this fixed time element as one of the keys of their digital growth.

This is one element in which digital editions are superior to print editions, because a reliable technology provider makes it much easier to actually ensure readers receive the edition on time. While we have seen publishers take extraordinary measures to ensure their print newspapers get delivered, even during hurricanes, it is clear that digital editions do have a leg up in this regard.

We know one publisher in a cold environment that has “Code White” days, where due to snow they are not able to deliver all their print newspapers so instead they open up their digital replica to all subscribers.

This set frequency is important because it enables the formation of reader habit — which we know to be the key element of retention. In analysis from Medill Local News Initiative at Northwestern, the number of days a subscriber reads in a month was found to relate to the percentage cancelling their subscription. There’s a sharp decline between subscribers reading 0 to 10 days a month — the cancellation rate is cut by more than half.

Next month we will be publishing the newest chapter in our research series “Reinventing Digital Editions“, which will look at exactly this question of how publishers can rebuild the print habits of yesteryear in their digital products today. Subscribe here to receive the report when it is released.

We have also created a report on how to best incorporate edition-based publishing in your digital strategy this year. You can download it here.

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