Arkansas’s state newspaper converts 79% of its print subscribers over to its interactive Digital Replica, helping return the struggling state newspaper to profitability.
VANCOUVER, March 3, 2020 /CNW/ – PressReader, the world’s largest premium newspaper and magazine platform and architect of Branded Edition 2.0 technology, is honored to be part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s ‘iPad Initiative’ – a bold experiment that won the 200-year-old newspaper the 2020 Mega-Innovation Award in Fort Worth, Texas.
Back in 2018, the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (ADG), Walter E. Hussman Jr., realized that for the first time in more two decades, his newspaper was going to lose money. Many publishers before Hussman faced the same dilemma and soon found themselves on the slippery slope to bankruptcy.
Despite experiencing the same disruptive impacts of the internet and massive changes in consumer behavior and business models, Hussman was determined not to end up like the 1,800 US newspapers forced to close their doors over the past 15 years. The Editor and Publisher 2008 Publisher of the Year, known for never surrendering to David versus Goliath battles in the past, was not going down without a fight.
Instead of cutting circulation in remote areas and decimating his newsroom as many US newspaper publishers did, Hussman remained committed to being “a public trust vital to our democracy” and the statewide newspaper of all of its 75 counties. By analyzing subscribers’ reading behaviors, he discovered that thousands of them had already switched from the print edition of the paper to the Digital Replica because they appreciated the convenience and flexibility it offered without losing the familiar print layout they enjoyed over the years. Armed with this insight, Hussman initiated an experiment in Blytheville where subscribers were encouraged to switch from print to the Digital Replica – incentivizing them with training and an iPad if the person didn’t have one. 70% of print readers converted to the Digital Replica, motivating Hussman to launch a full-scale rollout across the state.
At first, there was some resistance from subscribers, but after using the app for about three weeks, their opinion was universal. Subscribers liked the app experience better because it offered a familiar printed layout, augmented with engaging features such as zoom and pan functionality, live story updates, breaking news, embedded videos, slideshows, article sharing, story narration, instant translation in up to 18 languages, and access to past issues.
In January 2020, Hussman completed his digital conversion of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, transitioning just shy of 36,000 home delivery subscribers (79%) to the Digital Replica powered by PressReader’s Branded Edition 2.0 technology – the latest generation of the technology originally used to build the first ADG Digital Replica back in 2012.
The total cost of the conversion was expensive – with $12M spent on more than 27,000 iPads and US$90 per subscriber in training – but it was worth every penny. ADG was able to drop Monday through Saturday home delivery in 63 of the 75 counties in Arkansas and only offering the print edition on Sundays. Even some Sunday-only subscribers upgraded their subscriptions to include the Digital Replica. The average revenue per Digital Replica subscriber now exceeds $32/month.
When asked about the 21% of people who didn’t convert and the loss of that revenue, the publisher was pragmatic, “So, would you rather have 79% of your print subscribers paying you $32 a month? Or would you rather have 100% of your subscribers paying $5 a month? If you do the math, I think you’ll find it’s a much better economic proposition to go with the Digital Replica.”
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has been a valued partner of PressReader for close to a decade, capitalizing on all the distribution and publishing solutions the company has to offer, including PressReader Print-on-Demand, PressReader.com, PressReader mobile apps, and Branded Edition technology for its privately labeled Digital Replica.
“It surprises me that so many publishers still don’t recognize the value of digital replicas like the one PressReader built for us with their Branded Edition technology,” said Hussman. “Our print subscribers may have been skeptical at first, but now they love all the interactive features and extra content we can give them. They spend more time engaged with the Digital Replica, and we know that higher engagement leads to higher retention and lower churn.”
In a country where media literacy has reached a crisis point, and thousands of US communities are at risk of becoming news deserts, this award is particularly meaningful.
Arkansas is the home to over 3 million people, and despite the challenges of having the third-lowest literacy rate1 in the country, the third-lowest income2, and the lowest internet connectivity3, Hussman proved that the trust, perceived value, and achievement that comes with printed media carry over to digital replicas, along with the willingness to pay for them.
“It takes an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of vision to cannibalize existing products and business models in order to pave the way for a more profitable future,” said Alex Kroogman, CEO of the PressReader Group of Companies. “Working closely with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, we developed a product that would serve the paper’s entire audience, creating opportunities for print and non-print readers to explore all the quality content the publisher produces. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s success story has been an inspiration to all of us at PressReader and should be to the rest of the publishing world.”
Hussman is now focused on converting readers of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and expects to turn a profit this year. If it is anything close to what he accomplished with ADG, he should also start working on another acceptance speech at Mega-Conference 2021.
PressReader is on a mission to improve the way people discover stories that matter to them. With offices in Vancouver, Dublin, and Manila, the company provides the largest all-you-can-read platform of newspapers and magazines where people can discover relevant and trusted content from anywhere in the world — publications such as The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Hearst Newspapers and Magazines, The Globe and Mail, Newsweek, Forbes, Le Figaro, and Vanity Fair, to name just a few.
Using their phone, tablet, or computer, readers can browse content online or download entire issues using the PressReader app. They can subscribe for unlimited access, or get the full experience sponsored by one of its brand partners – businesses that leverage the premium content platform to enhance their customers’ experience – household names like British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air Canada, Marriott, Fairmont Hotels, Seabourn Cruise Lines, Princeton University, and the New York Public Library.
PressReader’s digital edition technology (Branded Editions) powers many of the world’s most iconic publishers for their privately labeled digital editions, bespoke apps, and web kiosks – brands like The New York Times, Arkansas Democratic-Gazette, El País, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, The Times (of London), Haymarket, ABC, and Clarín.
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