Readers are leaning in to digital print editions

By Nathaniel Bane

Herald Sun

Melbourne, Australia

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The rise of the digital edition of the newspaper is more than just a coronavirus-driven phenomenon. This is very exciting for the publishers that seize the opportunity.

Just as in Europe, readership for the digital print edition has spiked in recent months across news corporations’ newspapers in Australia. The biggest increase is coming for the metropolitan titles in the biggest cities, led by the Herald Sun in Melbourne and the Courier Mail in Brisbane. A digital subscription is required to download the edition.

People are spending more time on tablets and phones, but they don't want an endless amount of news.
People are spending more time on tablets and phones, but they don't want an endless amount of news.

Through April of this year, the Herald Sun’s digital edition readership jumped 42% in-app and 103% on the Web. The size of the audience reading the digital edition is almost one-fifth as large as the audience buying the physical newspaper — a figure not to be sneezed at. The average session time for the Herald Sun’s digital print edition is 20 minutes.

A reader’s desire to flip through the digitised format of a printed product — on a phone or tablet — has been rising steadily for years, even before the virus shutdown accelerated growth.

So why is a static product that is updated once a day thriving in a world of video, podcasts, and live and frequently updated article pages? And what does it mean for publishers?

It appears a couple of things are at play.

First, technology is getting better. Phones are faster, screens bigger, and download limits more generous. A full newspaper — with all the sections, ads, lift-outs, and puzzles — can be in the palm of your hand in seconds with zero impact on the monthly bill.

Interactivity offered in print edition platforms is also improving — simpler, more intuitive with added features, including audio and sharing functions. There’s also a utility to DPEs that digital article pages don’t offer. Back catalogues of editions or printing out a crossword are examples.

But it likely goes deeper than this. The latest research tells us readers are increasingly seeking a sense of completion — of “catching up with the day’s news.” It’s a goal proving to be difficult to achieve in an infinite online world.

This desire for a beginning, middle, and end — coupled with a gravitation back to local and trusted news sources — makes the digital print edition of the local metropolitan newspaper the perfect product to satisfy these needs. The challenge for publishers is working out what to do with this renaissance.

Is there a commercial opportunity here? There’s no doubt there’s a subscription play. Digital subscribers who engage with a digital print edition on top of live news have a longer tenure. The commercial play is a little trickier to nail down. In Australia, digital print editions aren’t included in official print audit figures, so publishers can’t effectively sell this audience. That’s a gap.

And advertisers need support in better understanding the value of this audience, one that is growing rapidly and is so highly engaged. Remember, these are 20-minute session times.

Publishers who work with their commercial partners — and continue to properly engage their subscribers — to build on the digital print edition, turning it from a by-product of the newspaper into a central part of the day’s news suite, will find more than just a new revenue stream. They will build a stickier business.

Something interesting is happening here. The publishers who work out how to leverage this will find themselves in a healthier position.

About Nathaniel Bane

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