In the last few years, many publishers have surpassed the point where digital paid subscribers exceed those in print. Of course, digital audiences are even larger when including non-paying readers, often 100 times those of print. Consequently, many publishers have responded by working to transform editorial organisations and processes to be digital-first with more effort on creating native digital content.
However, in many ways, the editorial product shift from print to digital is still in its early stages. The majority of editorial news content for many metro publishers is still written editorial, with the transferability to the print edition a key component of the content planning and creation.
Meanwhile, publishers have largely tried to fit the content model of legacy print into what could be a far more flexible and expansive digital product set. Products like the e-edition or other digital versions of the print product can work really well in trying to get a print reader to shift to digital, but these are not necessarily the way newer generations prefer to consume news and information.
Instead of thinking about word counts or how many column inches (or column centimeteres) an article should be, newsrooms have the opportunity to tell stories in new and innovative ways. This presents publishers with the challenge and opportunity to build engaging and deep connections with their readers through the introduction of interactive and varied content formats.
Here are five product types that publishers are investing in to attract new audiences and boost engagement amongst readers.
1. Data journalism
Data journalism exploded with the rise of COVID-19 as publishers relied on data to tell the news story. Whether this means using data tools to predict political elections, evaluate top athletes, or clarify subjects such as COVID hospitalisations, stories both on and offline are using data to engage and build a trusting relationship with readers.
- The Washington Post: At the end of 2020, The Post launched a department dedicated to data journalism. The department enables The Post to further vet sources and analysis and provide journalists across the newspaper with data expertise.
- The New York Times: There are plans for significant investment in its approach to data-driven journalism in 2022, including introducing over a dozen new data roles in the newsroom and assigning an executive to oversee data journalism across the newspaper. The NYT will focus on three primary categories: data in daily and enterprise journalism, election data, and weather data.
- Hearst Newspapers: Hearst’s Central Interactive Team, operated out of the San Francisco Chronicle, includes journalists with different skill sets, including photography and data analysis. The team creates interactive graphics, data-driven stories, and visual objects for five of Hearst’s newspaper markets. Hearst claims to see about four times the engagement time per major interactive story-telling project.
2. Games and puzzles
Used to both convert users to subscribers and create a daily habit amongst existing readers, games and puzzles have surfaced as a meaningful component of publishers’ digital growth strategy.
- The New York Times: In addition to the NYT’s distinct games subscription, which exceeded one million subscribers in 2021, the NYT keeps Wordle and its “mini” crossword free to play — a smart subscription acquisition strategy. The January 2022 acquisition of Wordle, for example, introduced the NYT to an estimated three million users (i.e. potential NYT subscribers). In terms of impacting existing subscribers, the NYT’s general manager of games sees a correlation between daily engagement with the games and long-term retention.
- The Atlantic: The publication views its free-to-play crossword approach as “habit-building.” To bridge the gap between player and reader, The Atlantic launched “The Good Word” free weekly newsletter, where The Atlantic’s crossword editor provides a deep dive into a favourite word or phrase from that week’s crossword.
- The Telegraph: In January 2022, The Telegraph introduced “Britain’s biggest weekly puzzles section” to its Sunday offering. In addition to the puzzles included in the print edition, The Telegraph offers a free daily puzzle to any registered user and a separates games subscription for unlimited access.
While the number of people listening to podcasts is growing at more than 30% annually, most people in the United States are not regular podcast listeners. According to Pew research, 56% of U.S. adults say they never gets news from podcasts. This presents a significant opportunity for publishers to invest in the technology and staff capability to produce audio-format news.
- The Toronto Star: In March 2020, the Toronto Star launched its daily This Matters podcast, which features a journalist and special guest who deep dive into passionate topics. The podcast enables the Star to expand to new audiences and engage with existing followers.
- The Wall Street Journal: The company’s podcast portfolio includes 13 podcasts that are primarily focused on specific business topics ranging from Secrets of Wealthy Women to Tech News Briefing.
- Slate: Slate offers more than 20 podcasts, which are a mix of weekly and twice-weekly recurring series and seasonal shows. Podcasts are focused on various topic areas ranging from parenting advice to political deep dives. Slate has also used podcasts as the foundation for its first-party data strategy with the launch of Slate Select.
4. Interacting with the newsroom
Publishers are creating opportunities for readers to connect directly with journalists to increase the sense of community and allow for more in-depth discussion between subscribers and the newsroom.
- USA Today: USA Today has a TikTok account with more than one million followers. The account posts a wide variety of content, including jokes, serious content, and quick news updates. The account allows USA Today to connect with readers in their own environment and develop a direct connection.
- The Economist: Insight Hour is a live Webinar programme with in-depth interviews between experts and newsroom staff about topics ranging from sustainability to healthcare. The virtual events include opportunities for participants to interact and network with the speakers directly including both chatrooms and roundtable discussions.
- The Guardian: Guardian Live is a programme of discussions, debates, interviews, speeches, and festivals featuring Guardian journalists and various thought leaders. The membership brings users closer to stories, journalists, and leaders in live-streamed and interactive events.
5. New technology including the metaverse and NFTs
Select publishers are exploring how cutting-edge technology such as the metaverse and NFTs can help them connect with new audiences and deepen relationships with their readers.
- Time Magazine: TimePieces is an NFT series featuring a collection of digital magazine covers in the form of NFTs. The most expensive Time NFT sold for USD$463,000.
- The South China Morning Post: The SCMP launched its first metaverse experience as part of The Sandbox’s Alpha Season 2. The Sandbox Alpha Seasons includes a series of gaming events where players complete quests throughout the season to earn SAND rewards. SCMP readers were able to sign up for the digital experience through April. SCMP is using the digital experience to reach a new generation of readers.
Developing new products require investment. Publishers not only need to invest in hiring, training, and technology, but also deal with potential risks around reducing investment in supporting legacy products. However, publishers should also be experimenting with the freedom that digital provides to tell news stories in new and interesting ways that will attract new audiences and improve the engagement of the current audience base.