News weeklies are one of the few magazine categories that are growing in print. And The Week is a long term publishing phenomenon with an incredibly loyal subscriber base. They rarely change the design template as it causes uproar among their loyal, longstanding and definitely mature subscribers, whose common refrain is “don’t change a thing.”
So not an obvious candidate for an iPad edition – and yet The Week has been a storming success on mobile, with 132k downloads of the UK edition, impressive commercial revenues and high star-ratings on itunes.
I was lucky enough to chair a seminar session with both Kerin O Connor, CEO of the Week, and Julian Thorne, MD of their subscription bureau, Dovetail, earlier this month and gained a great insight into how they did it and which of their learnings are applicable to other publishers:
1. Develop the app in an iterative way, in consultation with readers
The Week focussed on making the app easy to use, and stripped out video and excessive buttons, concentrating on words and pictures, and making it as easy to navigate as the print edition. A definite case of less is more.
2. Plan for multiple platforms from the start
The Week built their app on HTML5, so it’s not restricted to iPad and can be viewed on android and Kindle.
3. Treat it as a technology project, but use the whole team’s expertise
Dennis allocated a professional project manager, and involved ads, subs, ed and marketing.
4. Work closely with a small number of advertisers
From the start, The Week focussed on creating a sponsorship platform for Rolex – the daily briefing added real value to readers and is now the most popular item on the app. Rolex have renewed for year 2, and have been joined by a small number of other commercial partners.
5. Make the subs journey simple
Working with Dovetail, Dennis made it easy for existing subscribers to upgrade and access the digital edition.
6. Allow a free trial, but establish a price for digital
The digital edition alone costs £75pa, and even print subscribers have to pay an extra £6pa. This shows that the digital edition is worth paying for. About a third of free triallists converted to paying for a subscription.
7. Test alternative subs acquisition channels to Apple Newsstand
Dovetail built a subs journey for Dennis to promote via their own website and e-lists, and this has contributed to 23% of digital subs sales to date compared to 34% from Apple, with the balance from print subs upgrading. After allowing for costs, the direct subs are slightly more profitable than Apple, but both sources are important. Of course, the direct channel has full customer data.
8. Get your customer service in order
Don’t assume people know how to use the product. Dovetail has a customer service team dealing with queries about password recovery, navigating the app and new orders. They handled 8k calls and 26k emails in 5 months.
9. Don’t worry too much about cannibalisation
The Week gave print subs the options of “downgrading” to digital only: just 3% took up this option, and they were largely overseas.
10. Learn who your new readers are
A successful mobile edition will reach out to new readers who don’t know about your print edition. The Week has found that more of its new digital readers are women, and the age profile is younger than print subscribers.
So all in a great commercial success, and by working closely with readers, The Week has earned an enviable reputation in the App store as well.
About the author: Carolyn Morgan works with niche publishers to develop practical digital strategies. She regularly speaks and writes on digital publishing strategy, programmes the Specialist Media Conference and moderates the Specialist Media Network on LinkedIn, where over 1000 niche publishers swap ideas and network. If you’d like a no obligation discussion about your digital publishing strategy, please get in touch.