Desk-Net CEO Matthias Kretschmer brought together a panel with Christopher Pramstaller, Analyst and Audience Development Editor at Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien, Samuli Leivonniemi, Head of News at Helsingin Sanomat and David Guardado, Head of Digital Transformation at Prensa Ibérica Digital.
A geographically diverse group of publishers but one with the common concern of generating and managing reader loyalty.
David Guardado, a man charged with digital transformation at Spain's largest regional media group, traced the not-entirely painless content planning route followed to date.
"We started out with a freemium subscription model in 2014, and at the beginning, we were the only media with that model since the big players believed a subscription model was a difficult thing to introduce."
"We tried, and we proceeded, very carefully, to send a message to readers telling them that 'you will have to pay, maybe not now, maybe not much, but...' We had less than ten percent of our content behind the wall and this year we took a hard look and saw little subscriber growth, so we chose to relaunch differently."
"Three months ago, our papers started the relaunch process, and so far it's been successful. People were skeptical, said that readers would never pay, but in just three months the subscription base has doubled."
All content needs constant monitoring and adjustment
The key to that was a focus on in-depth articles ('a fondo') similar to the 'diamond' articles approach at Helsingin Sanomat.
"Where you give value for money, people are willing to pay. It's not just about a good journalistic approach, though; it's also important to show it. People weren't aware that relevant stories even existed, so when you ask them to pay, you need to show them and give them a visual experience that makes them feel it's worth it."
A recurring point from the Editorial Days 2019 was that publishing a story is only the beginning of an ongoing process of monitoring and tweaking.
"We did AB tests with the same story, made changes to the UX, and found when people were more engaged. That's the point at which people are more likely to pay, and when they pay, they are less likely to churn."
"Acquisition is far from the end of the story either. Initially, we only thought about acquisition and not retention, and that's crazy. You need a retention model, or you will lose users after the offer ends. Only fifty percent of our subscribers are loyal users, so that means you won't keep them. You need to work on loyalty up to and beyond the point of subscription."
At which point Matthias turned to Samuli Leivonniemi with the question of whether it is possible to intercept someone at the point of churning and reconvert them.
You do your best every day; there aren't days where you can put your feet up. We have our 'diamonds' approach, but we are also always working on making the news service better."
A necessary shift from traditional working practices
Christopher Pramstaller agreed, and in the process underlined the shift in working practices.
In traditional publishing, even the idea of continuous monitoring of the editorial approach would have been open to interpretation as meddling or a lack of trust in the editors. Now, however, the requirement of re-jigging on the fly means monitoring is a must.
"You have to sit down with editors and pinpoint what is important. You will get one or two editors that get it, and see that it helps them, but I have worked on a lot of papers where you would never sit down with section heads and say, 'That won't work.'
As the conversation moved on to the tools for content planning, Christopher Pramstaller made it clear that his wish is for streamlining; "fewer open screens is the goal; all editors want one centralized system with the analytics in there too. Instead of which you typically have a CMS, planning tool, social media tools, google trends, long and short-term analytics, etc."
Samuli agreed that there are too many systems, but warned against bolt-on integration when he mentioned that "I am no fan of CMS systems that try to do everything because usually, they don't do it well. I like small systems that do one thing well, but as a user, you don't want to have to hop on and hop off them all day."
The pitfalls of editing by analytics alone
In terms of the growing sophistication of tools and editorial by analytics, the final word went to Christopher Pramstaller on the risk of over-dependence on algorithms. "It's like driving a car. The dashboard can tell you that you're traveling at 50kmh, and that's nice information to have, but if the road looks like it could be slippery, you need that editorial gut feeling to decide to brake."