There are two key planks to building a sustainable digital news consumer revenue business: Getting subscribers and keeping them.
The second is more difficult but more important for publishers.
Teamwork between two key departments is crucial on the frontline of engaging and retaining paying readers. The editorial team delivers great content — more of what subscribers want at a high enough standard that warrants paying for it. And the product team delivers great experiences — intuitive, seamless news environments from Web to app and articles to newsletters.
Two years ago, at News Corporation Australia, we set about rethinking digital news for subscribers to our four biggest metropolitan news Web sites: the Herald Sun in Melbourne, The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, the Courier Mail in Brisbane, and the Adelaide Advertiser in Adelaide. The focus was to improve subscriber engagement.
Subscribers who read more are stickier. Our extensive research with subscribers underlined that audiences today have basic expectations of a digital subscription service. They expect a certain amount of content personalisation and customisation, a seamless experience across Web and app, and content with credibility that they can trust.
We had to rebuild our sites and apps from the ground up to deliver — or, in regard to trust, better highlight — these principles. We had to stretch the technology to achieve higher levels of personalisation. And we continue to learn about our subscribers’ behaviour now that we have a built-in a range of customisation tools.
Some important trends are emerging. Shorter, faster Web home pages improve scroll depth. Cleaner article pages with clear paths from one story to the next — and content that is more contextual — deliver more second clicks and pageviews per user. And while subscribers want to be able to customise to a point, especially to receive hyper-local and sports-related content, they still see considerable value in editorially curated news feeds. The fear of missing out is strong.
Internally, the importance editorial and product teams play in driving success as a partnership after launch has become clear. Products can only do so much. News teams that drive the content — from journalists to editors, digital producers to graphic artists — have the closest relationship with subscribers and the biggest impact on the day-to-day experience.
How content is built and where it is put are vital in driving trust and credibility. How well the product tools are used is key.
While our audience will soon switch from an on-platform majority to an off-platform majority, it is also clear the core to keeping subscribers for the long haul hasn’t really changed. Great digital journalism, built well, allows readers to easily discover more of the content they are most interested in. Regardless of how content is discovered or distributed, this remains at the heart.