The Independent, Washington Post, and Bed Bath & Beyond Find New Digital StrategiesOct 25, 2016 - by Kristine Lowery
Recently The Independent, a U.K.-based paper that has been challenged by today’s digital-first media realm, announced it had turned a profit for the first time in 20 years, just six months after becoming a digital-only publication. Meanwhile a U.S.-based paper, The Washington Post, has been experimenting successfully with desktop push notifications, and Bed Bath & Beyond takes a page from Amazon’s playbook.
The Independent Turns a Profit Six Months After Going Online-Only
U.K.-based paper The Independent has finally found a way to turn a profit: stop publishing on paper, and become a pure-play digital media company. Last March, the paper announced the end of its print version and within three months readership of the digital edition increased by close to 50 percent, says CampaignLive. This surge in readership was matched by a near-equal rise in digital revenues, which grew 45 percent year over year, as reported by the Financial Times.
“By going online-only, we freed ourselves from the unwieldy infrastructure of print,” remarked owner Evgeny Lebedev to the Financial Times.
That infrastructure included not just printing and distribution costs, but also the loss of 110 editorial staff. The publication now has a much leaner staff, and is working to attract a broader set of readers. Other publications that have followed this same low-cost strategy are Bustle, which hinted in a 2015 Business Insider report that it was flirting with profitability. Profitability for individual media publications may be in sight, but for longtime professional writers, it’s much less clear.
Washington Post Experiments with Desktop Push
Given how well push notifications help publications reach mobile readers, maybe a similar technology can work for the desktop set as well. That seems to be the logic behind some recent experiments in so-called desktop push. At the Washington Post, readers are asked if they want to receive “breaking news alerts,” which are delivered as desktop notifications. The WaPo has been using Chrome’s notification feature to deliver these for about three months, and according to DigiDay, more than 200,000 readers have signed up for it. That makes the opt-in rate about 10 percent. The clickthrough rate on notifications is 33 percent, suggesting that desktop push could indeed be a powerful cousin to push on mobile devices.
But cautionary tales from the mobile space also apply. Readers will opt-out if they receive too many irrelevant notifications, making personalization crucial to ensure relevancy and continued reader engagement.
Finally, a Retailer Copies Amazon Prime
Given the ongoing success of Amazon Prime, it’s surprising that more retailers haven’t adopted the paid-loyalty-program format. Now, facing dropping sales, Bed Bath & Beyond is giving it a try. The program supplements the retailer’s famous 20 percent off paper coupons, which it’s used for years to bring customers in the door.
The new program costs $29 per year and includes free shipping and 20 percent off all purchases. According to Business Insider, the program accomplishes two goals: It capitalizes on digital performance, which grew 20 percent in the second quarter of 2016, and creates a new revenue source.
This strategy is likely to be watched closely by other retailers as they look for ways to compete with Amazon. Flat-out imitation may be the right path.