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In Europe, digital-only editions are being used by news organisations to innovate and meet the needs of readers who are short on time, but also as additional opportunities for revenue, shows a new report published today (19 April) by Twipe Digital Publishing.

The paper defines digital-only editions as "bundles of finite content, published via digital channels with a certain frequency, belonging to a series, and with no counterpart in print containing the same content".

The aim of the research was to identify what successful editions have in common, as well as publishers' motivations for investing in them.

Twipe also identified some best practices for creating digital-only bundles by interviewing eight European publishers who have developed such products: Handelsblatt, Diario de Navarra, Le Monde, Die Welt, Ouest-France, The Economist, The Independent, and Tamedia.

The news organisations interviewed for the study used digital-only editions to better serve their existing audiences in a format they preferred, such as Ouest-France's evening edition that focuses on games and interactive stories, or The Economist's Espresso that gives busy readers a finishable product. On the other hand, Le Monde launched La Matinale, a digital morning offering, to become more appealing to younger readers.

On the commercial side, publishers said digital-only editions served their organisations' business needs in three main ways: helping to acquire new paying readers, as subscriptions for this type of products are often cheaper than standard subscriptions; creating a "sense of added value" that people are more willing to pay for; and cutting down on costs derived from having a print edition, like in the case of The Independent.

While the eight products featured had different pricing strategies and some offered limited free trials, none were available for free. However the study pointed out it is important to "highlight the added value of digital editions" and to take into account the "public perception that it is cheaper to produce [a digital edition] than a print one" when coming up with a pricing strategy.

"We wanted to have something to offer in between the free consumption of the digital articles and becoming a full subscriber – an on-ramp for becoming a subscriber," said Remy Becher, senior director of agile project services at The Economist, quoted in the report.

Based on the interviews, the report identified six best practices and focus areas for publishers looking to develop digital-only editions:

  • finishability: "by ensuring that readers will be able to finish the edition in a timely manner, this makes it more likely that the reader will include the edition in their daily routine";
  • simplicity in pricing: offering a single subscription option or setting the price of an edition based on the daily cost of a cup of coffee (The Economist's Espresso) or Spotify (Tamedia's 12);
  • push notifications: using alerts as a reminder for readers, either alerting them to the availability of a new edition as a whole or by drawing them in with a notification sent for a key story;
  • desire to innovate: "viewing the edition as a sandbox for innovation, which (...) goes beyond the creation of the digital-only editions and sustains the process of reiterating the product and creating the best possible user experience";
  • meeting readers where they are: using the information they have about their audience, news outlets can free up resources and prioritise the features that will be most helpful to consumers;
  • strong cross-functional teams: investing in a team with different skillsets and expertise means decisions around the product can be taken quickly and more effectively, so that the digital-only edition will constantly improve and remain relevant for the audience.

The full report is available here.

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