De Standaard learns, profits through digital edition’s growing pains

By Emmanuel Naert

In April of 2013, De Standaard, the Flemish journal of record, launched its digital evening edition dS Avond. This edition is available by subscription and its content is complementary to the (digital) newspaper. 

dS Avond bundles the news of the day in an easy and compact way, very fit for readers entering “evening-mode’” (the dishes are done, kids are in bed, and they’re about to settle into their comfortable sofa).

The product launch was promising. During a first trial period, dS Avond was free and we noted 17,500 as a daily opening average (on tablets and PCs). After three weeks, De Standaard closed the gates to non-subscribers, and we slowed down to a 13,000 opening average, which is 16% of our total subscription base.

Not bad for a new product with no track record and a tricky publication moment (the publication is released at 5 p.m. each day).

But the objectives of dS Avond are higher.

dS Avond is a part of the total digital subscription to De Standaard as well as our premium subscription option. And this new edition was destined to leverage our sales.

But that wasn’t the case immediately after the start. Our digital sales didn’t go up as budgeted and summer was about to begin — not the best period for large-scale acquisition campaigns.

In this period, we learned that managing such a paid digital product has two key factors to take into account — conversion and patience.


This product launch took a huge amount of investment: investment of time, energy, and people. After the product went to market, we were counting too much on brand awareness. This didn’t pay off. 

We set up an optimisation project to create visibility and a lower barrier for our paid content. This is an effort shared by everyone in the organisation: journalists, traffic specialists, and marketers. 

By doing teaser articles, promotional campaigns and product offers are integrated in the free part of the Web site. Not a single opportunity must be lost to obtain the interest of a potential subscriber.

For example, tear down the paywall for one day if you want to seize a great news moment. The day former Prime Minister Wilfried Martens died, dS Avond was available to for free — 57,000 readers downloaded the edition.

This demanding but continuous effort is paying off. Conversion figures are up and digital sales are rising again at a very nice pace. 


Compared to the newspaper, dS Avond is a small baby, just 9 months old. It has good arms and legs, but is still learning how to use them. The formats of dS Avond are fresh and innovative, but not yet used to their full potential. Digital activation of our public is also a process that takes time. 

In discussions these last nine months, De Standaard management team sometimes wondered whether it was a sound decision to dedicate eight people to an edition that is used by only a small percentage of our readers.

The answer? Yes! 

dS Avond is growing. Since September, readership is up by 10% and last week’s report showed the best opening average. The public is keen on discovering this new and exciting product.

Through digital activations and incentives — offering of a free e-book after five consecutive openings, or a competition to win a trip to New Zealand — opening figures have increased more than 30%.

In addition, industry is very enthusiastic. Editor-in-Chief Karel Verhoeven is in high demand to tell his story at media conferences, and Ouest-France recently launched a similar, Edition du Soir.

The belief of De Standaard in dS Avond as a spearhead of our media is stronger than ever. By putting in continuous effort from all of our colleagues, we are able to procure sustainable growth.

About Emmanuel Naert

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