Hooking readers on the first article in a series is an age-old tactic being put to new use by Australian daily The Age.
Daniella Miletic, digital editor of the Melbourne masthead says ‘binge-style’ series’ articles have proved by far the most read pieces of the week and also converted the most readers to paying subscribers.
In an INMA ‘satisfying audiences’ blog with home page editor and editorial writer Michael Schlechta, she says a series of stories on a specific topic has been a staple of newspapers for many years. “They suit the daily rhythm of a newspaper, and the print format offers a unique means of displaying what is often some of the most in-depth and original journalism that a newsroom produces.”
But for digital, a ‘series’ can have some unique challenges: With the 24/7 nature of the format and the limitations of home page display, it can be difficult to determine the timing of how and when to roll out the individual parts that make up a series.
Readers were able to access part one of the Second CBD series for free, but all other articles in the series were placed behind a paywall.
The default has most often fallen back to following the lead of print: publishing one story at a time, placing it on the home page each morning, and hoping for the best.
In a break from that tradition, The Age recently decided to take a new approach, with encouraging results.
A series focussed on how – despite town planners seeking to decentralise Melbourne – it still has only one central business district. “Second CBD, as we titled it, was made up of four parts – the first discussing the broad theme, and the remainder focussed on the three best locations for a new central business district,” she says.
When the series was in draft, Age editor Patrick Elligett read part one, an introductory piece, and instantly wanted to move onto the next installment.
Instead of publishing on a daily basis, the decision was made to release the complete series together. It was also decided that, while the first story would be accessible to all readers, the remaining three would be put behind a hard paywall.
To link the series digitally, a pool of graphic images was created, each one specific to the area discussed in each story, but also visually connected.
“The results have been impressive,” says Miletic. “We saw significant spikes in traffic, particularly to parts two and four, immediately after the series was published.
“Part four was based on a city in western Melbourne – an area our masthead is keen to tap into. It had also attracted a large audience throughout the first three days of the series before it was given any home page placement.
“The series’ articles were by far the most read pieces of the week and also converted the most readers to paying subscribers of all the content we published that week.”
Miletic says the response was so encouraging that the approach has since been tried on another five-part series based on different people’s experiences and candid confessions about working from home. “Similarly, there were large spikes in traffic to the stories before they were actively promoted.
“And when we did place the stories on the home page, they continued to attract readers. This demonstrated that our ‘binge’ approach did not detract from traffic at the time of promotion. Rather, it added to the total.”