Zach Leonard, managing director for digital at The Independent, i and London Evening Standard.
It has been a busy year for both The Independent and London Evening Standard, both of which have launched redesigned sites, while looking to generate additional revenue through the introduction of paid-for digital content.
Earlier this London Evening Standard, which is free in print and online, launched a paid-for iPad app, which was met with some scepticism at the time (nma.co.uk 19 July 2012). The publisher soon realised this wasn’t a sustainable approach however, and has since removed the charge.
Similarly, The Independent introduced a metered paywall for international readers, which new media age reported would be reassessed in September (nma.co.uk 11 June 2012), and as a result a new strategy has now been implemented.
Zach Leonard, managing director for digital at The Independent and London Evening Standard talks to new media age about the reasons behind these strategy changes, the changes to digital content across the board and upcoming launches.
Why did you stop charging for the Evening Standard iPad app?
We launched it with a trial price of a £4.99 a month, but I think in hindsight that was a bit too much of a leap for people who really only consider it as a free experience. As ABC is now counts tablet editions as acceptable it just seemed to us that to stay harmonic with our overall strategy of scale [would be more appropriate]. It’s only been a couple of weeks now.
Why do you think people were unwilling the pay the £4.99 price tag?
We didn’t have a huge backlash, but numbers [of subscribers] were low - in the single digit thousands. I think people didn’t understand why if it was free on the street they had to pay for the digital version.
How do you plan to increase revenue at Evening Standard?
As page impressions increase so too do ad impressions. We have an integrated sales team that are able to sell both titles together which means we have somewhere in the order of two to three times the number of news advertisers coming on board to the Evening Standard website than was the case at its previous iteration as This is London.
There’s two basics around that. One to me is the branding and URL, and the importance of seeing a standard proposition online rather than something that is part of a long portfolio of ‘This is…’ back when it was owned by DMGT. London was just one of many, albeit one of the larger ones.
It should naturally continue to accrue more and more traffic and we will continue to invest more to get people to come more often.
How has your strategy for international coverage of The Independent changed?
Following a review of some of the data and after the announcement by The Telegraph that it is to start charging for traffic outside the UK, we are going to be give [the metered approach] a further extension. We will be lowering the number of articles [that can be viewed before the paywall comes down] to five. It is quite a radical change from where it sits today at 20 articles. That is based on the amount of traffic we are getting in the US and the nature of that traffic some of which is sticky but for some it is just an article or two. We don’t think it will have any adverse affect on the advertising.
We’re going to be lowering the price too. It has been at $6.99 per month, but we are lowering that to $3.99 per month so it will be just a little bit more premium than The Telegraph.
What was the main catalyst for this change?
I think to have a really conclusive view on whether it is a good supplementary revenue stream for us we need to change the variables enough from where they have been. 20 articles was certainly too high in our experience and if we were to bring it to ten based on the analysis we’ve done that might have provided enough evidence but I wanted to do a real binary test so we can see the effect.
It also gives us a good reason for those people who have subscribed to get in touch with them and give them a loyalty benefit of a lower price.
What is the next step for London Evening Standard?
In October we were at 18.9m page impressions and on a month on month basis that was up 17% but on a year on year basis it was up 64%. The unique browsers, however, have been pretty flat. That to me is the next challenge – how do we get more people to be thinking of the Evening Standard, particularly in the morning.
We’ve learnt with The Independent that the more an audience starts their news morning with you the more that feeds into the afternoon in terms of referrals and sharing.
We need to get people away from thinking of the Evening Standard as an evening paper. It will take a bit of a change of perception.
We are also looking to upgrade the Evening Standard website fairly significantly later this week or early next week. That is a continuum of ongoing investment and enhancement that we believe fairly strongly in.
What percentage of traffic comes via mobile at the moment?
For The Independent it is around 28-29%. It’s a bit lower on the Standard, but that’s because we didn’t have an effective mobile site until last week. It is more like 15-20%, but that will surface above 20% this month.
What has been the main contributor to growth on The Independent?
I think it’s a number of things. The appointment of [editor] Christian Broughton has had a big impact, and has given us a whole new editorial view. The length of the page is also something we’ve been working on. Having a couple of critical and popular stories towards the top of the page, in the central top position as this is often the highest traffic driving location on the page.
We use a couple of tools [Chartbeat and Visual Revenue] to manage the page which we use to almost validate the editorial judgement. The tools constantly measure traffic to individual articles and based on that, particularly with Visual Revenue, it has the ability to predict if we were to move a story into a top location, for example, how much more traffic it would generate.
What plans do you have for The Independent iPad edition going forward?
We’ve got over 30,000 active users in a month, which isn’t a huge audience, however they are massively loyal. We did some research around limitations and expectations of the iPad app. We produce a pdf replica for [sister title] i and we have a more interactive native app for The Independent. The i followers are very vocal and they love the fact it is the same as the paper, but some have criticised it for being just a pdf – you can’t please everyone though. It’s a small tactic but by adding an interactive crossword [we have found] it is just enough for people to realise it is really convenient and the price is on par with what you pay in the shop. At the moment we find it is the best approach for i.
With The Independent, it’s a slightly older user base. They expect more from the app. This past week we have started adding more content to it. It has most of what you get in the print edition, but then we are continuously updating it throughout the day, so you can think of it conceptually as the newspaper plus the website in terms of the amount of content that is going through.
We’re in a the process of updating that app now based on some of the things that came out of our research like the navigation for example, which is a bit ‘snakes and ladders’ at the moment as you have to go down into a section and then across into the article. We will be introducing continuous swiping from one article to the next which we believe will make it a lot stickier.