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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged content strategy

Another set of liveblogged notes from Digital Media Europe 2017. Typos, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax probable.

Pål Nedregotten, Executive Vice President, Amedia AS, Norway

Pål Nedregotten

Ameida is a local business – although there’s a concentration around Olso, they don’t have titles in major Norwegian cities. And they had fine reach – but reach was never enough. Digital ad income would not fund local journalism as they’d known it. In April 2014, they launched single sign-on across all their newspapers, as part of a two step plan:

  1. Start with their paying print subscribers, 480,000 of them, who were paying significant amount of money for access. They wanted to convert them into digital subscribers. Then they needed to help them build a digital habit, in preparation for a print frequency decline. The hope? This would reduce churn.
  2. Turn that into growth – bringing in new subscribers.

Interestingly, each subscription comes with 5 user accounts – it’s a household subscription. Once you have logged-in users, you can capture richer data. And thus, you want to give anonymous users a reason to register and sign in. Move people up the value chain.

How to do that? A subscription layer – a paywall by any other name. Between 40 to 60% of articles are in the subscription layer. Getting the level right required some experimentation: hey needed to get above 30% before it really took off.

From reader to subscriber

They now have 527, 729 subscribed. They’ve put on about 3000 in the last week. That’s 12.9% of all Norwegians over the age of 15. In total they have 800,684 registered users.

But: are they using the sites?

  • The highest logged in 249,000 daily, and around 360,000 weekly.
  • They’re selling around 300 digital subscriptions every day.
  • That shoots up during campaigns. A Black Friday sale led to 4,600 subscriptions. There’s no signs of growth slacking off yet.
  • They have 130,664 digital only subscribers – and that growth curve is accelerating.
  • They’re not seeing print cannibalisation.

Will it pay enough?

Editors and journalists are trained in arguing and gut feelings. And that made it hard to persuade them that they can charge more than Netflix. And they could. And then they said they couldn’t charge more than Spotify – they could. 149kr to 229kr per month seems to be the right spot. The circulation income is trailing the sales – but it is clearly growing.

87% of digital sales are done on the online edition. They don’t have local sales guys – it’s the journalism that creates the sales. 64% are new customers, and the digital customer average age is below 50 – and crawling downwards

Retention is all about the right content

If people read you, they stay (at about 80% relation rates). If they don’t read you – they’re gone after 20 weeks.

So, they started classifying and analysing stories – and found that they had high readership and low volume content types, and high volume and low readership content. They were producing the wrong sorts of content – and that news was unwelcome in the newsrooms. This was the result of producing for print. If you’re assigned four pages of culture, you fill four pages. So, they changed the workflow: do content for digital first, and then build the print product out of that.

The paywall balance is really important. They’d never have this growth without the free content. The more people read the freedom content, the more they’re likely to subscribe.

They’ve stopped distributing analytics that hasn’t been worked on. They remove “fly by” traffic, that will and can never convert.

Last year they were Norway’s largest producer of live football. 347 matches streamed live, with one camera and one voice. That will be 364 in the 2nd division this year – they have exclusive rights. They’re broadcasting 1st division bowling – 12 subscriptions. 88 subscriptions on a youth football tournament, Local lifestreams convert really well.

Back in January the first newspaper crossed the “more digital than print subscribers” milestones. The same month one newspaper became profitable from subscriptions only.

Key Lessons:

  1. Put the reader first
  2. To deliver this value must be important enough to get it done.
  3. That means letting go of other stuff. Prioritise.
  4. Give clear goals and use progress monitoring
  5. Communicate values
  6. Don’t be afraid to charge
  7. The value is good journalism: the tech just enables it.

Analysis

Probably the most important things in this model are:

  • Experimenting with the balance of free and paid content
  • Using analytics to reshape the content balance

This level of proactive content management work to understand the audience needs and obsessively reshape their business to support it is vital to building a vibrant local news ecosystem. However, Amedia moved before the financials became too constraining – too many local publishers didn’t. But the message is clear: be ruthless on focusing on the right amounts of the right content for people – and they will pay. But the free content is critical in getting them in.

Techmeme

Has our lust for innovation made us move on from ideas too quickly? I’ve been mulling that over for most of the day, since I read Charlie Wurzel’s long piece on Gabe Rivera and Techmeme. Unless you’re a blogger of a certain vintage, you’re probably thinking “who?” right now. And that’s fine – he runs a niche site, but a hugely influential niche site:

Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai are both confessed readers, as are LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, former PayPal exec and current Facebook Messenger head David Marcus, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Hunter Walk, a former product manager at YouTube turned seed-stage venture capitalist, told me he checks the site three to five times daily. “It’s one of my first morning sites,” he told me over email. “My perception is that lots of us [in Silicon Valley] use it.”

Techmeme is that most-old fashioned of digital things, an aggregator. It makes editorial decisions with algorithmic support over what the most important stories of the day are – and then links to all the discussion around that core story. That combination – of ranking and connection – is utterly compelling and all too little replicated anywhere else.

There are many people trying to find ways of surfacing the “best” or “most important” stories of the day – usually through algorithms, although I still favour the human-curated element through either newsletters or (whisper it) blogs. In many ways, it’s the second element of Techmeme – that’s so interesting – connecting together the conversations.

Conversational connectivity

Techmeme at work

In digital content circle, we talk a lot about “content atomisation”, the idea that the publishing packages of the past have been atomised into individual articles found via search or social. In a sense, what Techmeme does is reconnect those atoms into molecules of news, allowing you to track not just the most popular articles, but to explore the interconnections between them and other articles, which respond to them or follow them up. Thos connections both inform the ratings, but also guide to the reader into the broader context of the story.

It’s such a compelling idea that I’m surprised that nobody is really working on it in any other way. A decade back, the blog platform makers were really interested in connecting up conversations online. That led to the advent of standards like Trackback and Pingback, both of which got steadily buried under ever-increasing volumes of spam. And, to add to the woes, much of the discussion around any single article is now buried away in private spaces like Facebook.

But still, it seems a strange gap in the technology of the web that it’s surprisingly hard for the casual reader to easily find responses and follow-ups to something they’ve read.

And, it seems to me, that such a system might be a very handy tool in the war on intentionally misleading news.

Stock content for the ages.

What happens when you stop publishing new material and take a hard, professional look at your archives?

The Buffer team decided to find out:

Having not published original content on the blog for 30 days, we saw only a 4 percent dip in traffic compared to the previous month.

Basically, they took a professional approach to revising, revamping and repromoting evergreen or stock content – and reaped the traffic rewards.

This is still the least-appreciated aspect of running a website amongst news-centric publishers.

Also worth noting: this is a post from 2015, which I discovered because they repromoted it…

Paul Bradshaw does an interesting thing in sharing his answers to student questionnaires on his site. It’s interesting, because sometimes the questions are as indicative of the mindset amongst students as the answers are about the rest of us. So, here’s a recent questionnaire I filled in for an LCC student…

1- Could you briefly introduce yourself, what you do, your area of expertise and how long have you been doing this?

While I’m a business journalist by background (starting around 20 years ago), for the last decade I’ve worked largely on digital journalism and publishing – understanding what the internet does to our reporting – and our business models.

2- How would you define the term of ‘spreadable news’ and what impact [direct or indirect] does it have on journalism?

Spreadable news is news that is designed to spread on social media and find its audience that way. It’s an acknowledgement that news is less of a destination than it used to be. Social networks have drawn people’s attention, and so sometimes we have to piggy back on them to be read. Social is now the biggest traffic source across news sites generally – just beating out search.

2.2- Could you give me a few examples of the way journalists have to adapt their work to make it more ‘sharable’ and relevant to the audience?

Principally it requires a different style of headline writing – one that is designed to invoke an emotional reaction. But beyond that, it’s spending into new formats for news – especially video. Social video doesn’t look anything like the standard TV news package and finding a vocabulary for that is a struggle for many news organisations. (more…)

Simon Owens’ reason for cross-posting to his blog, Medium and LinkedIn:

The harsh reality is that only a tiny fraction of your social media followers will click on a link to an outside website, and most prefer to interact and consume content that’s native to the platform they’re browsing. So if you’re only publishing, at most, a few articles per week and don’t have an enormous social following, chances are your content is getting lost in the noise.

This is a new reality we’re living in that’s going to make it ever harder to build destination sites. What’s becoming important is finding ways to expose your ideas to a wider audience, and that now means, inevitably, working with other platforms to spread your writing and content.

I suspect that people working in video are well ahead of those of us who are more text-centric here. Do you know anyone working in video who isn’t uploading to Vimeo, YouTube or Vine?

Porous websites

We’ve talked for a long time about sites having “fuzzy” boundaries – that content diffuses beyond the “wall” of the website – but now we’re seeing that spreading further. I’m fascinated by the way Euan Semple cross-posts everything he writes to Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn and his own blog. He’s clearly more interested in sharing his ideas than building website per se.

And that’s a difficult idea for those of us from a publication background to adjust to.

MG Siegler:

True power is when media creates content explicitly for a network, rather than simply repackaging it.

A useful insight. A lot of work has been done over the last decade on workflows and tech for pushing the same content through multiple channels. And new, we’re slowly waking up to the fact that you need to create for the space, not merely repackage. That brings a whole set of hard choices with it.

Evergreen Housing

Vox remains one of the most interesting experiments in digital journalism , because it’s so very aggressive in stepping away from the “flow” of traditional print news, and into creating “stock” evergreen content for the site.

Their latest experiment saw them spend a week revamping old copy to bring it right up to date. The results are fascinating:

What was interesting — though not completely unexpected — was that no one even seemed to notice that we were flooding the site with previously published content. A lot of the articles were enthusiastically shared by people who had shared them the first time around, too. No one seemed gripped by a sense of deja vu, or, if they were, they didn’t mention it.

Yglesias is right in that it shouldn’t be unexpected – “archive” content often surfaces in sites’ most-read lists. What remains surprising is how little the wider journalism world has got to grips with this idea.

Yglesias again:

Every single day, genuinely important, wonderfully interesting things happen in the world, and it’s, of course, a core mission of journalists to tell people about them. But lots of important things aren’t new at all, they’re just longstanding patterns, structures, or systems. Even more commonly, some new development causes an issue to get attention or seem more relevant, but once you do start paying attention you see that you’re just looking at one aspect of a longstanding issue — one you’ve written about extensively before.

These are genuinely new thought patterns for journalists used to the daily/weekly/monthly grind of disposable paper objects – but they’re crucial to making the digital transition.

The content we talk about least right now is content that gets a lot of reads, but no social media shares, Likes or retweets. Too many systems are set up to monitor these external marks of quality – from Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, to Google’s search algorithm.

How do we identify and surface this sort of work, when people, for whatever reason, don’t want to share it or link to it, but do want to read it?

Adam Tinworth quoted on Content Measurement

Maybe it’s down to a couple of decades extracting them from others. That said, I suspect I should be a tough more politic when I’m interviewed:

Tinworth’s style is both genial and refreshingly frank -”the market research we used to do to understand print readership was horsesh*t”- and he’s as comfortable talking about how social media has changed publishing -“you’re not ‘launching’ anything new any more – you’re joining a discussion that already exists”- as the rising popularity of native advertising -“my worry is that it will lead to irreparable reputation damage for publishers”.

And that’s just the first paragraph.

(And print market research largely was horseshit…)

Trees in bloom

This lurks towards the end of a slightly odd piece on Poynter about evergreen content:

My instincts say it’s weird to dig up old content without a specific reason, but it’s worth asking if our hyper-sensitivity to timeliness can get in the way of serving readers who might not care as much about news hooks or newness as we do.

Sam Kirkland starts off talking about some research, but drifts into gut feelings, and assumptions. And there’s a deep problem with that: most journalists’ instincts in this area are completely skewed by the process of journalism and their own interests:

  1. Most journalists are news junkies. They’re far more interested in news as an idea than the general population. That’s why they’re journalists. The rest of the population is far more inclined to seek out interesting information than inherently newsy information in the run of things. That’s why pretty much every single news site I’ve worked with is baffled by the fact that what they perceive as “old” stories are getting great traffic. They’re not “old”, they’re interesting – and that value does not diminish with age.
  2. Print publication demands news. The shift from print to online has reversed the traditional pattern of publication. Print is fixed but transitory – the story is calcified at the moment of publication, but the assumption is that the vehicle of publication will not have a long life. A publication is “today’s issue”, or “this week’s issue”, or “this month’s issue”. That time-based definition shapes the way we think about the content within from both a production and a consumption standpoint. Online is mutable but permanent – the story itself can be changed at any time, but it can, in theory, live online forever.

One of the problems in building sustainable online businesses is not recognising this shift. We’re still building journalism for transitory vehicles, in an age of the permanent site.

Evergreen content isn’t an odd quirk – it’s a major part of the future of publishing.