When Expressen decided to launch its digital subscription service at the end of 2018, it was looking to find the same popularity online that it enjoyed with its print newspaper. Already well-accepted for its journalism, Expressen was reaching 70% of Sweden’s population through its site, app, and newspaper.
In creating a digital subscription service, Expressen planned to create a new source of revenue, one that would supplement advertising and subscription revenue from the print edition.
From the beginning, it was aware of having several challenges to overcome. For starters, it was one of the last newspapers in Sweden to introduce digital subscriptions; its main competitors had been doing so for 15 years. Equally pressing was the importance of generating a steady revenue stream: Without it, Expressen would be unable to continue financing its journalism.
Tall goals, short timeframe
The team gave itself four months to build a digital subscription service and create its digital revenue stream. Among the project objectives were to make the digital subscription, called Premium, something readers found indispensable.
To do that, the team decided to build a special editorial team whose purpose was to write the exclusive stories that would be locked behind the paywall. About 95% of the content remained open to readers, but the 5% behind the paywall comprises the company’s best content to provide an incentive for readers to subscribe.
This content included investigative pieces, such as a series of stories about the richest district in Sweden and a story about being a woman in Afghanistan — the most dangerous country for women.
However, it was going to take more than great content for Expressen to reach its goals; it was going to take the use of data, technology, and collaboration to reach a seemingly unattainable goal.
Data meets teamwork
All departments needed to work together to make the Premium launch a success. A cross-functional team comprised of key employees in editorial, analytics, tech, and commercial worked closely together to make sure all aspects were considered and that they made smart, data-based decisions.
Ultimately, they settled on three pillars to ensure their success:
- Data democratisation. Data became central in the plan, and digital screens in the newsroom let all departments —sports, entertainment, politics, etc. — see how well content was converting. Each department was given a weekly conversion target and the dashboard tracked their performance toward the goal and showed conversions per article. Not surprisingly, the competitive instincts of each department kicked in and journalists worked hard to meet or exceed their weekly goals. Further, a bot in their Slack communication system served as an hourly reminder of how well stories were performing. That data helped determine what content should be free and what needed to go behind the paywall.
- Dynamic paywall. Expressen built its own tool to manage its dynamic paywall, which allows marketers to manage all the content and campaign at an extremely detailed level. The tool allows for testing text changes in real-time and targeting offers directly to customers.
- Content consistency. Creating Premium editorial meant a combination of creating a special editorial team, but editors also monitored and analysed content from other departments to look for stories that could go behind the paywall.
Rapid — and lasting — results
The ambitious gamble paid off for Expressen, thanks to its collaboration and analytics. In just one year, the Premium offering went from having no subscribers to having 70,000 paid subscriptions. Not only did Expressen meet its revenue target, but it exceeded its goal for churn and retention — all while increasing its digital reach.