The Spokesman-Review’s Executive Editor Rob Curley had heard it ad nauseam from the community: We used to subscribe to the Spokane Daily Chronicle.
The Chronicle, a daily afternoon newspaper owned by the same company as The Spokesman, had been defunct since the early 1990s. How did it still have a hold on so many hearts in Spokane?
If there’s one thing Spokane loves, it’s history. Longtime print subscribers recalled being paper boys for the Chronicle or reading the newspaper after dinner. Some had old copies stashed away, while others stumbled upon archives within their walls that had been used as makeshift insulation.
As The Spokesman-Review moved forward with its digital transformation, the newspaper wanted to transition longstanding subscribers from print to digital with a focus on the daily e-edition. A goal for 2021 was to increase digital activations from current print subscribers who automatically receive digital access as part of their subscription.
The Chronicle was a beloved piece of Spokane history, and The Spokesman hypothesised that print subscribers would happily activate their digital account to read the Spokane Daily Chronicle — revived as a subscriber-only e-edition.
Reviving a classic
The Spokane Daily Chronicle launched on July 12, 2021. The Chronicle wasn’t just a reprint of the next morning’s Spokesman-Review newspaper. The e-edition included premium content that could only be accessed by Chronicle readers, like the Spokane history page and an exclusive comics and interactive games page.
Subscribers were automatically enrolled to receive e-mail notifications when the Chronicle was published. Ads and informational inserts on how to access their digital account were included in the print product to help reach our target audience. The Spokesman also produced a series highlighting the history of the Chronicle leading up to its launch date to help generate familiarity and interest.
The Spokesman’s data affiliate, Mather’s Listener data analytics platform, analysed subscriber retention for the first three months following launch and controlled for tenure for a five-year period.
Mather’s analysis projected subscribers who read both The Spokesman and The Chronicle e-edition had a 5% greater retention rate than users who interacted with neither during the three-month period. Those who read only The Chronicle e-edition had a 3% greater retention rate than subscribers who read neither. The standings remained consistent over a five-year tenure period.
Mather’s analysis also found that the impact of The Chronicle e-edition was equal to that of the Spokesman’s daily e-edition. The Spokesman was able to track notable increases in e-edition views around the evening, showing readers returned to the e-edition and increased their engagement with the digital product.
Long term, The Spokesman-Review hoped that if readers were in the habit of reading The Chronicle online and were able to manage their online subscription, the eventual transition of The Spokesman-Review from print to digital would go down smoother.
The past as a bridge to the future
The Chronicle focused on the goal of retention. It was a byproduct of listening to the interests of readers and offering them additional, premium content with their subscription that aligns with those interests. Not only could this aid a digital transition, but it could help prevent churn.
Of course, not every market will experience the same reader fervor for reviving a defunct newspaper. But the framework for retention can be reproduced with these three simple steps:
- Establish a target audience. What is the goal of the product, and what does the target audience look like? What do they read? Are they part of a certain demographic? Make sure to market the product on platforms that are consistently used by your target audience.
- Find what that audience loves. Each market has a golden egg. Use data to track the reading habits of known users for ideas or circulate surveys asking for reader feedback. Uncovering content valued by readers could lead to more opportunities, even if not used for the current project.
- Measure its value. Once a product is launched, it’s hard to phase out. Establish a trial period, or start with a sample group, and measure the progress over time to establish if the bang is worth the buck.
Photo: Sen. John F. Kennedy, then Democratic nominee for president, looks at a Spokane Daily Chronicle during his campaign visit to Spokane, Washington, on September 6, 1960. At right, peering over Kennedy’s shoulder is local resident Palmer J. Wagner, who assisted on the campaign. Photo courtesy The Spokesman-Review Photo Archives.