Austria’s German-language broadsheet Die Presse began selling digital subscriptions in March 2017. As a leading, reliable news source, the newspaper wanted to stop giving away premium online content for free and began posting many “subscriber-only” articles.
The appearance of the site was simple, with premium content noted by a blue teaser bar. But by January 2019, after nearly two years of learning about the dynamics of digital subscriptions, the company knew it needed a different approach.
The teaser bars did nothing to show the value of the content locked behind the paywall and were unsuccessful in attracting new subscribers. In just under two years, Die Presse had attracted 15,000 digital subscribers, which is certainly respectable in a country of 8 million. But thought leaders at the publication believed they could do better.
A change of perspective
To drive home the value of a subscription, Die Presse needed a new approach. Instead of viewing the digital product as nothing more than a translation of the print version, which is basically what it had been doing, it wanted to focus on the metrics of providing value to the user.
To the team developing the new digital interface, providing that value was rooted in three key pillars:
- Letting users know everything they need to know.
- Showing the plurality of opinions real quality journalism provides so users can form their own opinion.
- Giving users the opportunity to explore topics that they may not have even realised they would be interested in.
Having a clear vision of the value they were going to provide helped guide the team with a map for moving forward. Armed with this information, the team determined how stories would be featured as well as how that would affect commercial success for the new digital product.
Placing a deadline to complete the new digital experience by December 2019, the team went to work. They developed a tool for the editorial team to use that allows them to more successfully work with the data to determine what coverage is most important for the digital platform.
That resulted in a matrix called the “ski jumper’s graphic,” based on the knowledge that a ski jumper can only be successful when she has both the right technique and jumps at the right time. That same philosophy was applied to editorial decisions and continues to be at the center of editorial content today.
Accelerating the project
In May, with seven months until the project deadline, Austria experienced one of the most significant stories in its history. Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung released an undercover video showing the Austrian vice-chancellor offering lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support. The scandal forced the resignation of the vice-chancellor and prompted a special election, set for September.
Recognising the significance of the moment, Die Presse moved the launch date of its digital product up three months, now targeting to go live one week before these critical elections. Without compromising any of the new design or accessibility features, the team accelerated the timeline and, on September 25 — just four days before the pivotal election — the new digital product went live.
It featured a new user-friendly interface, bold, appealing graphics, and more content. To promote the new digital offering, that day’s print publication was designed in the same style as the digital product, effectively introducing readers to the new option. Within three minutes of launching, Die Presse had sold its first digital subscription.
Readers were treated to new visual experiences to accompany powerful content. The redesigned homepage used the ski jumper’s matrix to ensure readers see the stories they are most interested in, while a clearer structure of the stories allowed for easier navigation of the page.
The new platform also introduced a daily online magazine as a subscriber-only feature that gives readers a place to experience content in a much slower and more visual way. The stories are relevant for several days and provide deeper analysis into topics that readers are interested in.
The initiative pays off
The push to launch the platform early proved to be a powerful business decision, and its timing was not lost on others. It prompted Der Standard publisher Sebastian Pumberger to tweet: “Four days before a national election. I admire your resting pulse.”
Meanwhile, the new look and in-depth coverage earned positive comments across social media.
The editorial team’s coverage of the election on September 29 provided the opportunity to sell more subscriptions. In the first month of launching the new digital platform, conversions spiked 241%, and overall digital product revenues were up 236% by the year’s end.