Page views and visitors double when you give customers more of what they want.


Rising costs of newsprint and distribution have gotten publishers to consolidate and slash expenses. When it comes to reducing daily and weekly page count, it is a gut-wrenching process. As the ad slide continues, removing manufacturing, raw material, and distribution cost is always on the table. As much as cutting product boosts profit today, we lose sleep at night wondering how these cuts impact our long-term customer relationships.

In 2017, this author was leading the consumer marketing team at Gatehouse Media’s Rockford (IL) Register Star. We were tinkering with the idea of creating additional content for the paper’s replica e-edition. This was bonus content not found in the newspaper’s print edition.

As users have become increasingly familiar with the e-edition, it seemed logical that the impact to retention dollars alone would make it a great opportunity. Readers have been fans of digital e-editions for some time. However, the content was a carbon copy of what they found in print, providing little value for print readers to migrate online.

We launched over the 4th of July holiday weekend. Coupling the Independence Day holiday with the slogan, “Declare your independence from fake news” gave the expanded product offering a lot of horsepower to move the concept into orbit.

Homepage “pencil” banner display ad

Like many properties, Rockford was faced with declining customer volumes. This placed pressure on circulation and advertising revenue alike. The bonus e-edition pages gave something back to customers in a big way. The publishing plan included pushing 30 extra pages weekly to the e-edition. The content was supplied by a centralized news content hub.

Print and digital subscribers responded very well. These are stories you won’t get in print. They are enough reason to click on to your e-edition every day. Register Star editors used some of their front page real estate to promote and tease the additional content.

A major advertising blitz convinced the market to try the new product extensions. Promotional plans included a front page takeover on, online display campaigns, television, radio, and targeted email campaigns. Full page ROP advertising and A-section spadea led the charge, persuading print readers to give it a try.

It was all free the first several days of launch from July 4 through July 9. Anonymous users simply provided their email address as registration and viewed the entire e-edition without charge. Following the campaign, users were re-targeted with follow up email campaigns and re-targeted onsite.

E-edition users grew 97%, while page views jumped a walloping 123%. Average page views per visit accelerated by 38%- a great signal of site stickiness. Average visit duration climbed 11%.

When I met up this week with John Harrison from Tecnavia (Rockford’s e-edition app provider), he told me that Rockford is the leading case study. “Doing more both with digital and more than you just get in print helps offset pages that have been lost in print over the year,” Harrison told me. Replica editions needn’t be replica anymore. Today’s consumer demands more because they have a nearly infinite number of news and media choices.

Harrison told me there are so many ways to produce incremental content for your e-edition. “While content hubs like AP and others provide additional news content, don’t forget about how papers can share content with one another. Sister papers in the same organization can do this easily,” he said. He added, “Photos and videos that don’t make the final cut are also of interest to our newspaper audiences. They could find a home as your e-edition bonus content, too.”

To keep customers coming back, Rockford sent a daily email to notify readers. Their inbox communicated with them when the next edition was ready. In just one click, they could be back on their e-edition.

Daily push e-mail reminds users when next edition is ready to be read.

Happy Independence Day, America!

We have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. I’d love to hear your ideas around print and digital customer engagement and retention growth. Or, if you’d like more ideas, like these, I’d love to hear from you. We want to help. At Local News ROI, we’re here to help your customers love you back!

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