Can a loyalty editor boost engagement, subscription rates?


Two weeks ago at the INMA Dutch-Flemish seminar in Utrecht I heard Jim Chisholm speak about a good old theme: the lost reader.

His interesting claim is that we do not lose readers, but lose reading frequency.

The number of weekly or monthly readers of newspapers stayed almost the same over the last few years. But the number of copies sold on a normal day went down, though less for popular titles then for up-market titles.

So much for the analysis. Let’s focus on the opportunity.

Analysis in my early days in newspapers was quite simple. People bought our local newspaper on Saturday and Monday for national sports, on Tuesday for local sports. Wednesday was a bit of a problem, Thursday was focused on classified and obituaries, and Friday got a practical planning supplement for the weekend. We used the same kind of thinking later for a business newspaper. That’s no surprise, and neither was it for the readers. It was like this and would stay like this.

Today most newspapers and Web sites do exactly the same. They even publish more and more supplements. The newspaper De Morgen in Belgium recently launched two new magazines on Saturday. Great news if you have the time to spend — great value for the money. But also very expensive to produce.

In the same period we also knew that this alone was not the answer to the problem. The real reason people stay loyal to a newspaper is their will to be surprised day after day. A well-known answer from editors to that ambition is “they have to buy a subscription, so sell it!” Unfortunately this is still possible today. But the real answer lies in cross-selling over weekdays.

This week I saw a nice promotional example from De Standaard where on Thursday the newspaper was made with guest editor Walter Van Beirendonck and on Friday readers got a free ticket for an exhibition by him. Well done, but pure promotion. What about the content?

On Fridays it’s mostly no problem to find announcements with content of the weekend supplements. Strangely enough newspapers do not have problems promoting supplements in their own columns. But what about the day-to-day content?

I tried to change this once. After a long effort I convinced the editor-in-chief to tell me at 4:00 p.m. what they planned to run in 36 hours. It was then the marketing department that had to make the advertisements and had to spend their limited in-paper budget for this.

How much more wrong can we be? How is it possible that people in newsrooms and marketing departments do not see the huge opportunity?

So I propose a new function: the loyalty editor. This someone — a leading person from within the newsroom — is responsible for adding to as many articles, news stories, reports, games, comics, etc. as possible a message to the readers about what is coming up the next few days.

For instance, after a murder tell them that you will bring a story of other murders in the same region, or tell football fans that you will run an interview with a top player tomorrow, or tell them something special will happen the next day in the comic series, or tell them you will add a new crossword with a special prize the next day. And use the same idea on the Web site, but try to bring them for a second visit that same day.

But make sure this is a position within the newsroom so marketers do not have to beg for the content, and do not have to use their in-paper budget to promote it.

If you do so, your money is much better spent than by running big campaigns or direct marketing actions for subscriptions. It’s a simple idea that creates loyalty among readers.

And do not forget to tell your readers about your success with these actions. They love to see they belong to a winning team.

Good luck.

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