Reinventing Digital Editions

In an age of information overload, news consumers are developing an appetite for finite and curated content while publishers are looking for more ways to monetise their quality digital content. Are editions the answer?

— By Mary-Katharine Phillips, Twipe

According to research from Reuters Institute, 44% of readers prefer to be briefed a few times per day.

Source: Reuters institute Digital News Report 2016

Over the last few years, publishers have launched digital editions to better serve the needs of this segment of the audience. What can we learn from them?

Twipe launched the research project ‘Reinventing Digital Editions’ to understand the best practices of successful digital-only editions. In the resulting research report, we share key lessons learnt and best practices from leading European publishers, such as Le Monde, The Economist, Die Welt, Ouest-France and The Independent. You can download the free report here.

Twipe defines digital-only editions as a bundle of finite content, with a clear beginning and end, and an editorial hierarchy. They are published via digital channels with a regular frequency and there is no counterpart in print containing the same content.

‘We believe in the power of editions. Our readers love the curated order, finite experience and editorial choice. In times of limitless information and limited time, editions provide the valuable service of selection and judgement.’ — Alan Hunter, Head of Digital at The Times & The Sunday Times

Comparison of 8 digital-only editions from leading European publishers

In total, we looked at the following 8 leading digital-only editions:

Genesis of digital-only editions

Interviews with leaders behind these editions revealed the key motivations in developing these new innovative, digital-only editions:

  • Replace print publications that were not profitable anymore, such as The Independent.
  • Target new, complementary audiences, such as La Matinale (Le Monde). Le Monde wanted to reach a younger audience with a morning edition, so they created a unique swiping feature for La Matinale.
  • Pure desire to innovate — When the Welt Edition was in its early development stage, they didn’t even know what the iPad was going to be called; they just knew they wanted to be the first on the German market with a newspaper tablet app.
  • Serve time-crunched readers who feel overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of news. The Economist’s Espresso is one such edition, positioning itself as a ‘shot of daily news’ for people on the go.

Benchmarking

Length and content

We found three different types of digital-only editions, based on their length:

  • The ‘speed reads’ are between 7–12 pages long, with a focus on hard news content. When we compare their monthly subscription cost to the number of pages a subscriber has access to, these editions have the highest cost per page. This suggests that readers are willing to pay more for the added convenience of finishable editions, optimised for people on the go, such as Espresso, Handelsblatt10, and Tamedia’s 12.
  • The medium reads are longer, with 21–33 pages, and have more interactive games, puzzles, and other visual elements than hard news. These are mostly ‘lifestyle reads’, that are aimed at leisurely readers who want to be entertained as well as being informed. La Matinale, identified as a medium read, was more in line with the ‘speed reads’, with 2/3 of its content being hard news.
  • In between these two extremes are the extended reads, with more than 50 pages and a content mix more in line with printed newspapers: almost half/half of hard news and other content. The most common non-news content are games, weather, and TV listings. These editions are published every day and are meant to replace their print counterparts.
‘The edition is a success because it has a clear beginning and ending. If you’ve finished it then you know you know what is necessary, people are done at some time and then can go on and do other stuff.’ — Grischa Rodust, Welt Edition

Pricing strategies

We examined the pricing strategy of the editions and found that the most common offering is a monthly subscription, with an average price of €8.64. While some of the editions offer limited free trials, none of the editions are available entirely for free. This goes back to the genesis of many of the digital-only editions: these editions are seen as an opportunity for new revenue streams for publishers.

However there is still a public perception that it’s cheaper to produce a digital edition than a printed edition, which digital-only editions need to account for when setting their price. One way of making the price appealing is benchmarking. For example, The Economist’s Espresso earned its name from both being a shot of news each morning, and also from being the same price as a daily cup of coffee. Tamedia’s 12 uses ‘Spotify pricing’ to attract millenials that are willing to pay a small amount on a monthly basis.

‘We have to add more value if we want people to pay for our digital proposals. There are many free alternatives and for most of the users, the free versions are enough.’ — Pablo Frauca, DN+

It is also important to highlight the added value of the digital edition, such as the optimisation for busy on-the-go readers. This helps to show readers why they should pay for digital news when so much of it is already available for free elsewhere on the internet.

Data and technology

While digital-only editions benefit from more data insights than their printed counterparts, not all publishers seem to embrace data in their decision-making processes (most decision makers even had an adverse reaction to a suggested impact of data on the creation of the editions). The most common sentiment was that while data is analysed, it is not a driving factor in the editorial choices of the editions. The stories and placement are chosen by gut feeling; if data shows this is a popular topic then it’s a bonus, but it’s never the reason why a topic will be chosen.

‘We believe in a clear separation between church and state. We will never clickbait or change our headlines so more people will read it. We do keep a close eye on what stories people engage with most, but it isn’t that we then use that data to change the edition’s content’, — Remy Becher, Espresso.

Tamedia’s 12-app stood out for its data integration. They have even developed in-house technology to pick stories, which they call the Octopus. The Octopus crawls their database and picks out the best articles for each day’s edition. Still, Michael Marti, head of the 12-app, points out that the Octopus is used in conjunction with human curation to decide the final content for the app.

‘Full automation of selection is unrealistic, because we can never be 100% sure that Octopus hasn’t missed a great pearl. Ideally, Octopus is used to aid the decision-making process — a perfect combination of human and machine.’– Michael Marti, 12

More newsrooms are comfortable with data being used to understand reader behaviour, as opposed to being used in the creation process itself. One example is at the Espresso, where they learned how important the speed of loading time is. Their data shows a clear correlation between loading speed and commercial success of the app itself.

Best practices

Six best practices for successful digital-only editions have been identified. Depending on the type of digital-edition, whether it is targeted for busy-on-the go readers, created to serve new moments of news consumption, or intended to be a direct alternative to the print edition, there are different design and packaging decisions that must be adapted.

‘We stop the clock once a day. It sounds like it doesn’t make sense, but actually it is what most people want. They don’t want to be online all day. The combination of the old and the new world makes a better third option. This project shows us that journalism has a future and there are models that work well. People are willing to pay for good content.’ — Désirée Linde, Handelsblatt10
  1. Finishability: Limit the amount of news stories to allow the reader take a step away from the news and finish reading in a timely manner. This encourages the reader to incorporate the edition into their daily routine.
  2. Simple pricing models: Help encourage more subscriptions, through simplifying your subscription offer.
  3. Push notifications: Habit-forming push notifications are a good way of alerting readers when a new edition is out.
  4. Desire to innovate: By viewing the edition as a sandbox for innovation, the news organisation as a whole can innovate.
  5. Meeting your readers where they are: Handelsblatt10 knows that its target readers are on the move, so a desktop version of their edition is not necessary. This frees up resources to focus on giving the readers exactly what it is that they want, making it easier to slip into their daily routines.
  6. Strong Cross-Functional Teams: Having team members from different areas of the business, with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, means that no outsourcing is required. This ensures teams are independent and have faster decision making processes.
You can download the full report here.

Disclosure: Twipe is a media partner of the Global Editors Network’s flagship annual conference, the GEN Summit. Twipe is a digital publishing solutions company helping publishers engage more readers and monetise premium content on mobile devices.

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