Rising print production and distribution costs are squeezing margins for many legacy print publications. Digital transition has long been seen as a lower-cost alternative for pressured publishers, but to make the switch work, they must create digital habits among their print readership. Mathew Lynes at Twipe has highlighted some of the steps being taken by publishers trying to convert print readers to digital.
The Economist has stopped selling print-only subscriptions; a print+digital bundle is now the only option for subscribers who want to continue receiving a print magazine. At the end of March 2022, digital services made up 55% of revenue and 66% of new subscribers to The Economist now choose a digital-only offering, bringing the publishers into the 1 million subscribers club.
The Economist said in its annual report for 2022 that digital subscribers have better retention, lower cost of service and support the publisher’s carbon reduction goals.
Danish publisher BT is dropping print entirely in 2023. The organization has been developing its digital presence over the last four years as print distribution numbers dropped. It became Denmark’s biggest digital news outlet in May 2022 and with next year’s switch to digital only, will become 100% free and ad funded. Pernille Holbøll, the editor-in-chief at BT, said:
We are now focusing all our efforts on being the best where most Danes are: namely on mobile phones.
Devices and training
One way publishers convert print readers to digital is to supply them with the devices needed to consume digital content.
- In 2018, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette offered subscribers an iPad at their current print subscription rate. They also offered personal training sessions on how to use the tablet. Investment in the experiment ran to about $4.4 million for iPads and $1.7 million for training.
- The publisher now produces a print edition only on a Sunday; but retained 70% of its subscription base with iPad subscribers continuing to pay the same subscription rate ($34 a month) as they did for the paper to be delivered.
- In the UK, the Daily Mail offered new subscribers free Kindle Fire Tablets with their Mail+ ePaper subscription. At a price of £1.96 a week for the first year this was significantly less than the print edition, but has led to subscription growth.
Twipe warns that the people supplied with devices are not naturally digital enthusiasts.
This often results in cohorts of people using old and unmaintained devices where some apps are no longer accessible with new operating systems being unable to be installed.
Building digital habits
New formats have proved effective in creating new digital content consumption habits with print readers. Audio is one of the most popular additions.
- Audio generation company BeyondWords has developed a native Danish AI tool to help Danish publisher Berlingske dictate the day’s articles. Seeing the opportunity to convert print readers to digital, the publisher made the text-to-speech feature a subscriber-only product.
- Spotting a spike in website users at 6pm each evening, the editorial team at Ouest-France launched a new product to encourage new digital habits among subscribers to their morning newspaper edition. L’Édition du Soir features shorter stories, quizzes and puzzles to deliver a more relaxed news experience in the evening.
- A subscription bundle that includes the morning newspaper plus access to the evening digital only edition generates the highest retention among Ouest-France subscribers.