Why articles in audio format increase member loyalty

Sara Alfort
Nov 14 · 6 min read

What happens when all articles are available as audio? Loyalty goes up.

Danish magazine Zetland transformed itself completely into audio during the summer of 2017, and the results have surprised us: It has improved retention and member satisfaction. Listeners consume more, they stay longer with each story.

And it has also brought us an increased feeling of loyalty and commitment from our members. It is as if this has been a way of shortening the distance between reader and media.

If you have never heard of Zetland, we are an online Danish magazine. We launched in march 2016 and have more than 14.000 Danish speaking paying members. Every morning we publish two-three longer articles available both as text and in an audio version.

We have no ads and no breaking news. Instead we wish to tell you why something happened, and we wish to tell you only what you need to know. We emphasise on reporting on solutions, because we believe that is essential for creating a constructive og meaningful public conversation.

In mid 2016 we were at a crossroad. We were struggling to grow. Even satisfied members were leaving us. Denmark is a small market, but nevertheless we have eight national daily papers, a very powerful public broadcaster, podcasts had started to flood the market in 2016.

Then our members requested audio. They wanted to listen to Zetland. Strategically this was a questionable path for us, because there was no sustainable business model for us in doing audio. We couldn’t ask people to pay extra for listening to our stories.

Nevertheless in late 2016 we made the decision to move into audio based on these reader requests. We decided to build the best possible user experience with our core content in audio format. So we build an app where our articles are available both in a text version and a version you can listen to when you bike to work, drive or do the dishes.

We began reading a selection of our articles aloud, and during the summer of 2017 Zetland began publishing all articles as audio.

The decision of publishing all articles in an audio version was a complete transformation of our media in a relatively short time. And it turned out to be a great success. In two months 40% of the consumption was audio, in less than 6 months it was 50%. We were very surprised at the scale and the speed of this.

Today our members listen far more than they read the articles of the day. 70 percent of the consumption is the audio version of the articles. The journalists read their own stories, and we try to keep an informal tone. We believe this is key. We believe that having the journalist who is passionate about a story in your ears invites you closer in a different way than reading does. We make an effort to keep an informal, personal and intimate atmosphere. Because we believe that the tone of voice makes all the difference. You could argue that listening to the sound version of the article is a more intimate way of consuming journalism.

And it turned out that transforming into audio had an enormous impact for us. It has improved retention and member satisfaction. Listeners consume more, they stay longer with each story and it has also brought us an increased feeling of loyalty and commitment.

It is as if this has been a way of shortening the distance between reader and media. Which is crucial today. The relationship between Zetland and our readers needs to be much more than the relationship between a manufacturer of a product and the customer.

Which is why we also regularly involve our members in the editorial process, we ask them for their ideas, knowledge and experiences. We invite them into the workspace of the journalists. And several times our members have proven to be a powerhouse of enthusiasm and support.

Last summer we spend a lot of money on commercials on national television to attract attention. This summer we chose a different path, and asked our members to become our ambassadors. In just one month these ambassadors managed to get 2806 new paying members to sign up to Zetland. For us that means a growth of 25 percent. Way more than the tv commercials ever gave us.

After the campaign when we talked to our members, they would talk about Zetland as a ‘we’, they would say “congratulations to us”. We did really well.

We believe this sense of ‘we’, is what we need to create a new meaningful relation between media and reader in the world we are in today. We believe this sense of ‘we’ might be one of the ways we can build the trust we need,

Because we can only succeed if we can manage to establish a mutual relation with our members, and if we can manage to create a community where our members see our mission as their mission.

We could only get this result out of the campaign because our members feel a great sense of ownership towards Zetland.

So our response to the growing mistrust and widespread faintness towards the media industry is to consider our readers as members of an engaging community. We believe this perception of the readership builds a sense of ownership, a sense of being part of a community, and a strong engagement that improves our journalism, but also ideally can rebuild a democratic infrastructure.

But.

There are of course pitfalls with member involvement. The more we invite our members in, the more we potentially let go of the control. So how do we involve members meaningfully while maintaining our editorial independence?

Recently we set up an experiment. We wanted to explore if we could push the sense of community a bit further, and get our members to invite other members to meet and discuss articles from Zetland in their living rooms, at cafees or while taking a walk in the woods together. So a kind of face to face comment field in real life.

So we are talking about self organized meetups with no moderator, no presentation, no Zetland employee. The kind of meetup you cannot scale, or just set up again in the next city, and which isn’t a greater success the more members show up. It is just here and now with the ones who are present.

But this involves a great deal of trust from us when members meet each other at self organized meetups with a zetland sign on the table to find each other. Because no matter how the meetup goes we literally put our name on the meetup.

To be honest this is both enormously nerve wrecking and equally exciting.

Because to do this the members hosting the meetups need to feel a great sense of ownership to Zetland, and they must know what we stand for. And we need to be completely clear on our values, and what we believe in. We need to be completely clear about why we dream of conducting a different kind of public conversation.

Why it makes sense for us to not just ask you for money to pay for our journalism, but why it makes sense for us to engage and organise people who — like us — long for a more curious, insightful and constructive public conversation.

Because we honestly believe that this is crucially not only for journalism but also for our democracy.

And now we have members inviting other members to meet and discuss articles in all parts for Denmark — and even in Paris and Singapore, so we are both very hopeful and excited about the future of this experiment.

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