Editorial and product teams need to work together to acquire and retain subscribers, Herald Sun digital chief Nat Bane says.
In an INMA Digital Strategies blog, he points to the “two key planks” of building a sustainable digital news consumer revenue business – getting subscribers and keeping them. But he warns that the second, though more difficult, is more important for publishers.
“Teamwork between two key departments is crucial on the frontline of engaging and retaining paying readers,” he says. “The editorial team delivers great content – more of what subscribers want at a high enough standard that warrants paying for it – while the product team delivers great experiences”.
A rethink of News Corp Australia’s metro websites – for the Herald Sun in Melbourne, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, the Courier Mail in Brisbane and the Adelaide Advertiser – two years ago focussed on improving subscriber engagement.
“Subscribers who read more are stickier,” he says, adding that audiences expect “a certain amount of content personalisation and customisation, a seamless experience across web and app, and content with credibility that they can trust”.
News had to rebuild its sites and apps from the ground up to deliver – or, in regard to trust, better highlight – these principles. “We had to stretch the technology to achieve higher levels of personalisation. And we continue to learn about our subscribers’ behaviour now that we have a built-in a range of customisation tools.”
Important emerging trends include that shorter, faster web home pages improve scroll depth; cleaner article pages with clear paths from one story to the next – and content that is more contextual – deliver more second clicks and pageviews per user. And while subscribers want to be able to customise to a point, “especially to receive hyperlocal and sports-related content”, they still see considerable value in editorially-curated news feeds.
“The fear of missing out is strong,” he says.
He says the importance editorial and product teams play in driving success as a partnership after launch has become clear. “Products can only do so much. News teams that drive the content – from journalists to editors, digital producers to graphic artists – have the closest relationship with subscribers and the biggest impact on the day-to-day experience.
How content is built and where it is put are vital in driving trust and credibility. How well the product tools are used is key.
“While our audience will soon switch from an on-platform majority to an off-platform majority, it is also clear the core to keeping subscribers for the long haul hasn’t really changed,” says Bane. “Great digital journalism, built well, allows readers to easily discover more of the content they are most interested in. Regardless of how content is discovered or distributed, this remains at the heart.”