‘Binging Is Bad for Subscriber Health’; New Data Favors Reader Regularity Over Occasional Long Reads

Recent data collected and analyzed from the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index “shows that the most important factor in trying to get people to pay for news is reader regularity,” Mark Caro writes on the Medill Local News Initiative site. “What’s more, increases in page views and time spent may actually have a negative impact on subscribers and revenues.”

The New York Times paid a ‘low seven figure’ sum’ for Wordle, a daily puzzle. Daily Drive is Crain Communications Automotive News’ popular podcast series. A quick look at the IEEE Spectrum site shows content posted one hour and three hours ago.

New data says that building reader habits and regularity leads to retention.

Gardeners’ World Premium offers online access for free to all of its print subscribers. The reason: so they engage on a daily basis with them. “The objectives were first of all to add value to those print magazine subscribers… but then, more importantly, we’re using it as a way to try and engage with these subscribers,” said Ed Garcia, head of retention at Immediate Media, in a Press Gazette article. Their renewal rate soars to 96% for those who have logged in 15 or more times in the past three months.

“Not only is the finding that it’s regularity that drives retention and reduces churn, but the page views and time spent can have a negative influence when you control for regularity,” Larry DeGaris, executive director of the Spiegel Research Center, said in the Medill story. The reasons? Reading a long article can bring on ad blockers—“pop-up ads, videos and other elements that may get in the way of your reading.“ And someone reading a long story on their mobile device may not have a great experience.

“It’s preferable for subscribers to be in the habit of visiting your news source regularly as opposed to reading long articles occasionally and staying away for significant periods in between. ‘Binging is bad for subscriber health,” states a summary of the Subscriber Engagement Index data.”

Here are 5 more keys to finding metrics that drive regularity:

Try mission-driven metrics. “Shifting our collective mindset from data mining to mission-driven metrics will fundamentally shift how we relate to news consumers,” wrote Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper, co-founders of News Revenue Hub. “Instead of digitally stalking users, news teams will spend more time openly engaging with communities and asking people what they want. Truly mission-driven metrics will show organizations if they’re serving the communities they say they serve; if they’re producing reporting that benefits people.”

Focus on your goals. “Click-through-rates, page views, engagement time, dwell time… there are many metrics, but it is not necessary to capture and measure everything,” wrote Elizabeth Gamperl in her Reuters Institute report, Overcoming metrics anxiety: new guidelines for content data in newsrooms. “Instead, you should focus on measures that support your editorial and revenue model goals, otherwise you run the risk of changing what journalism in your newsroom is in order to fit the metrics you have, [instead of vice versa]. If your goal is audience growth, you must start measuring new users. If your objective is to generate more subscriptions, perhaps you should consider measuring conversion journeys in more detail, from anonymous to registered readers.

Examine your sources of traffic. “Where is your audience coming from?” Gennady Kolker, audience development editor at Crain’s Pensions and Investments asked in our webinar last year. “It’s important because it tells us a little bit about their behavior.” What percentage of people are coming in from social? Referrals are what they call third-party traffic. What percentage is coming in from email? “We have probably anywhere from 10-15 newsletter products, both thematic digests, and what we call our Daily Newsletter, and we care about how many people are coming in from all of those newsletters… When we get to loyalty and advocacy, how do we get them to come back? And how do we get them to talk about the product?”

(This was supported in the Medill report: “’Sharing and talking about stories has a direct influence on reading habit, where information curation doesn’t,’ DeGaris said. In other words it’s not enough for an outlet to direct readers to stories it considers important. These stories also should be relevant enough to inspire conversation in the community…”)

Gear to a call to action. In that same webinar, Ann Gynn, managing editor of The Tilt, said that with their organic content, they “just want people to consume the content,” and they’re looking at the metrics that tell them that. “But in content marketing, we want them to do something after they consume the content, no matter how much of the content they consumed. So when you’re looking at the metrics, that’s where we need to go… That’s the difference from it, and that’s how you create your content. You need to be thinking about that call to action. There are both direct and indirect. But you need to be thinking in that realm.”

Go beyond clicks and opens. Melbourne Australia’s Nine Metro Publishing’s first dashboard focuses on newsletter signups and shows: signups by member type and engagement; trends in both signups and cancellations; and audience overlap between newsletter products. The second dashboard measures newsletter performance and shows: send count, open rate, click rate, and cancel rate for any selected period of time; the recency and frequency of a newsletter audience; and the reading journey of newsletter users within an email and in subsequent Web sessions.


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