Audio is the new promising channel for daily briefings

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


With the audio-enabled morning briefing, The Washington Post enters a new battleground for consumers’ attention and senses. Podcasts fit into people’s routines in a similar way to e-mail newsletters. Will more publishers follow?

What is new: The Washington Post launched a short daily briefing, The 7, with the most important and interesting stories to start the day with. 

The new briefing takes just a few minutes to read, is available in both text and audio formats, and is available through The Post’s Web site, its application, social media channels, and in the form of an e-mail newsletter delivered by 7 a.m. every weekday. 

“Get it how you want it. Listen to The 7 on your commute or over breakfast: You can listen to an audio version on our app or Web site,” wrote the Post in its ad.

Why it is important: The Washington Post’s newsletter programme is already one of the largest among the top 50 news subscription sites in the world. Based on my review, it offers 49 newsletters (71 including news alerts), while the median number across 128 world’s biggest national news brands is nine.

Daily briefings in the form of short digestible news summaries are nothing new. Based on my review, 75% of the world’s national news brands offer a daily e-mail. For some brands though, the briefings became the key editorial products. For example, the flagship e-mail of The New York Times, called The Morning, has five million users.

If the concept is not new, what makes The 7 special? What stands out, in my opinion, is the audio form, which does not require reading and lets users catch-up with a few minutes of morning news in a car, on a subway, or simply at home while at chores.

How critical e-mail channel is: It is a workhorse of news subscription programmes. 

At the September INMA Digital Reader Engagement Master Class, Patrick Appel of Piano said that across 201 news sites internationally, e-mail is the second most-effective driver for subscriber engagement after direct visits to a home page.

With retention being in many publishers’ spotlight, e-mail newsletters became the critical tools to onboard new customers and trigger repetitive visits to Web sites. 

E-mail helps media companies acquire new subscribers, too: according to Appel, registered users convert, on average, at a 45 times higher rate than anonymous users.

With four billion users across the world, it is one of the most adopted Internet technologies, and as a channel offers publishers both scale and reliability.

Why newsletters work: Publishers’ newsletters inject themselves into an existing habit of many people to check their e-mails: 99% of e-mail users check their inbox every day. Of those people, 58% check their e-mail first thing in the morning.

News engagement is habitual, too. Many users check news on a regular basis and in a similar context: on the same time of a day, on the same device, in a similar environment, such as in bed, at breakfast, or on a bus, etc. 

For example, Norwegian Aftenposten found 41% of its sessions are generated by Daily Briefers, users who visit one three times in a day. 

Both habits — to check e-mail and the news — converge and reinforce each other.

Can audio play a similar role: There are daily routines that prevent people from reading, such as jogging in the morning or driving a car to work.

Today, more than half of Americans spend up to 29 minutes on one-way travel to either work, university, or school. They spend about two hours a day on household activities, e.g., preparing meals, cleaning home. 

Podcasts and audio news may very well fit in these day-by-day routines: 68% of U.S. adults listened to online audio in the last month this year, per Edison Research, and 50% listened in a car through their cell phone.

Daily briefings in the form of podcasts exist. The concept of The 7 resembles The Smart 7, a podcast by a U.K. radio presenter, producer, and entrepreneur Jamie East. Built without the support of a big organisation, his podcast hit five million downloads within its first year.

Takeaway: Expect more publishers to follow with such simple offerings, similar to The 7, that are easier to launch and cheaper to maintain than the radio-quality podcasts, such as The New York Times’ The Daily.

Greg’s Readers First newsletter is a public face of a revenue and media subscriptions initiative by INMA, outlined here. Subscribe here. 

About Greg Piechota

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