Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
6 mins read

How digital editions are helping to create reader habits

We know digital editions are having their moment in the sun right now, or as Rick Edmonds recently wrote for Poynter, “replica editions, the ugly ducklings of digital news, have suddenly become strategic.”

Many publishers have asked questions on using digital editions in their habit-formation strategies. Today we’re sharing answers to some of those questions.

1. What are the top three things I should know when trying to develop habits with news products?

For beginners in the world of habit-formation, there are three important things to keep in mind:

  • Habits can be formed through carefully designed habit loops
  • Three activities per week is the tipping point for habit formation
  • It takes time to form a habit, on average 66 days

To begin your habit formation journey, it is key to understand the theory behind habit-forming products (you can start here). Next, learn fromleaders of habit formation for news specifically, a good starting point is our recent report with eight case studies. Finally, when you are ready to develop a product with a clear habit strategy, you can make use of our Habit Formation Canvas for News Media Products.

2. What is an edition today?

No matter the format, a digital edition has certain characteristics that set it apart.

Though this question might seem straightforward, digital editions have evolved beyond a simple PDF without clickable articles. A digital edition can be entirely digital-first as well.

Even products such as newsletters can be considered editions in the digital world, as they respect the characteristics of a bundle of content with a set publishing rhythm.

3. Aren’t editions old-fashioned in the digital world?

The print newspaper has been a successful product for hundreds of years because of its unique features. An edition has a beginning and an end, which is something readers today are still looking for. Editions also provide the valuable service of curation; having someone take the time to decide which stories are important and in which order they should be read is something many readers find worth paying for. There is a reason why newsletters and podcasts have been on the rise in recent years: news consumers are looking for products that provide finishability and curation.

Editions are unique in their habit forming ability due to the perfect mix of predictability and serendipity they are able to offer. A loyal reader of a newspaper knows the structure of the edition inside and out, but they are still able to be surprised by the content itself.

4. How big is the group of readers that prefer editions?

Edition readers are not just an older generation that want the print experience in digital. Our previous research has shown there is a relatively even split amongst all age groups: half of news consumers prefer to read news in a constantly updating flow (=newsflow) while the other half prefer edition products that have a beginning and an end.

5. Do editions cannibalise from repeat visitors to the homepage?

Previous research from Reuters has found that there are three segments of news readers:

  • News lovers: access news continuously throughout the day, with a high interest in news
  • Daily briefers: access news a few times a day, with a medium to high interest in news
  • Casual users: access news less than once a day, with a low to medium interest in news

With close to half (44%) of all news consumers being daily briefers, editions are a key product in meeting their news needs. Someone who is a news lover might include an edition product in their news consumption, but it isn’t going to stop them from coming back to a new website multiple times in a day. On the other hand, a daily briefer is not likely someone who is currently visiting the news website multiple times each day. Everyone has their own habits and it is important that there is a clear product to meet those individual needs. While frequency is an important aspect in habit formation, it is frequency over time that is key not frequency in one day.

6. How do games and puzzles help create habit?

Puzzles and games are important aspects of many edition products, including Ouest-France’s L’Edition du Soir which has seen a significant portion of its page views come from their puzzle and game section recently. We know that editions on our platform have long engagement times, in part because readers are further investing in the reading experience with puzzles and games.

Research from The Wall Street Journal‘s “Project Habit” also backs this up. They found that using puzzles increased retention by 30%, however less than 1% of their audience had played a puzzle in the past. To increase retention, they revamped their onboarding process to encourage new subscribers to play a puzzle in their first week.

Recently we covered this topic more in-depth, with a full overview of how exactly puzzles play an essential role in reader engagement, the article can be found here.

7. Can non-daily publishers still create reader habits?

Our research found that a habit is formed when someone comes back to your content three times in a week. So when we are talking about a habit, we are not talking about a daily action. For non-daily publishers, it then becomes key to create triggers that will encourage readers to visit three times a week. If there is not enough new content each week to do so, publishers can explore making better use of their archive content (which is something we are indeed currently exploring!). Other triggers can be considered such as having journalists engage with comment sections on a day that no new content has been published or adding a new series that is published in between the main publishing days.

Ultimately, it is key for publishers to find the right balance of engagement to strive for with their own audiences. People only have a set amount of free time, with some having more than others. If a non-daily publisher can develop a core group of readers that come back every week, that is more valuable than having readers that come back every day for a week and then never again.

8. Why would a product lose its habit potential?

The first part of the habit loop is the trigger. So even if a reader has a habit with a news product, if the trigger is not activated then the reader might skip their habit that day. In simpler terms, we can look to the example of Tamedia’s 12 from our first report in the Reinventing Digital Editions series. When their automatic push notification did not get sent to alert readers to the new edition, they saw a big drop in readers that day. So even though those readers would have read the edition, the habit cycle was not started due to the lack of the external trigger of a push notification.

One of the important elements of the habit loop is the action that enables contact with the product. This action must be very simple, almost easier than thinking. If this action becomes more difficult, then the habit loop might be interrupted prematurely. This can happen when a product that was once very habit-forming is no longer invested in, for one reason or another. If a product takes too long to load or is otherwise slow, potential readers will lose interest and switch over to something else instead. If this happens enough, even a loyal reader will break their habit over time. The good news is that investing in your product experience can improve the habit loop as well, for example when The Telegraph optimised their homepage speed (going from 9 seconds to load to 5.5 seconds), they saw a 12% increase in pageviews from subscribers.

9. Who does a good job of getting their readers to come back daily to their digital edition?

A great way to reduce friction in the habit loop is automatic downloads. By enabling an automatic download when the daily edition is ready, loyal readers can start reading the edition as soon as they open the app.

Some publishers take this even further by publishing early editions the night before the print newspaper is ready. One example is DuMont in Germany, which has a ‘Frühausgabe’ for many of its titles, including Kölner Stadt Anzeiger. These early editions are a great product to respond to the strong internal trigger of some readers that are eager to know the news ahead of time. They also help to address different news habits, for example if the reader regularly does not have time to consume news in the morning, it is great to be able to offer new content in the evening for them.

Of course, external triggers are also key in encouraging readers to come back day after day. Ouest-France does this well, with emails that are sent out to alert readers of the new edition, in addition to automatic push notifications that share the top three stories from that day’s edition.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

Original content republished with permission of Twipe

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