With print’s future in peril, El Pais hones its online editorial strategy

Spain’s most-read newspaper, El País, is putting its digital product front and center, as falling circulation figures point to a possible future without print.

The paper’s circulation declined 15 percent to 220,000 in the last year, according to Reuters. At the same time, its online audience has been steadily increasing to nearly 16 million, up from 15 million from last year, according to comScore.

“The last two years have seen a fundamental change in the way that we digitally distribute news in different ways,” said David Alandete, managing editor at the paper. “We’ll keep a print title for as long as it makes sense to, but online is our future.”

El País has an advantage in that about 60 percent of its online traffic is direct. However, digital distribution channels are important, and rather than just pushing out breaking-news feeds across its digital channels, Alandete is emphasizing editorial opinion, insight and analysis in its newsletters and mobile alerts.

El País has 17 newsletters, delivered daily, monthly or weekly, covering breaking news and topics including culture, film and international affairs. All told, El País had 175,000 subscribers in 2015, up 132 percent from the year before. The plan is to reduce those to 15 newsletters and shift their content from breaking news and most-read stories to more opinion and analysis.

“Our philosophy is that we want the newsletter to be used as the front page of the newspaper, and try and get you to understand why this news is important,” Alandete said. “We want to energize it into something premium.”

Another area of focus is digital video. Its video team has grown from two to 25 in the past two years, and it has been using Facebook Live and live streaming political debates, as well as using it to interact with readers.

El País has had a free-to-download app since 2009 that’s a replica of the site. Alandete recently changed the app’s mobile push notifications to push out five of the most important stories as chosen by editors each morning and afternoon, along with up to five daily breaking-news alerts. “People trust it because it’s curated,” he said. Previously, the app was just pushing out the most recent stories in the morning and evening.

Enrique Dans, professor of innovation at IE Business School in Madrid, said with El País’ reputation as the most well-known Spanish paper, it has an opportunity to offer more premium services and opinion pieces. “The impression was they weren’t doing as much as they could in digital because that could cannibalize the print edition,” he said.

Alandete didn’t comment specifically on what would happen if El País ceased print publication. While it would eliminate production and distribution costs, such a move would make the publisher more reliant on digital ad revenue, which is under attack by ad blockers.

In Spain, around 26 percent of people block ads, according to the IAB Spain. El País doesn’t know how many of its own readers block ads, and typical of other publishers in Spain, it’s not doing anything to combat the ad blockers.

Of course, publishers creating more branded or native content with advertisers is an alternative to ad blocking, but one that Spain’s legacy print titles have not adopted with open arms, unlike its digital-first publishers, such as El Espanol or El Diario, according to Dans.

“The new entrants think it’s an interesting way to make money without prostituting the editorial line,” he said. “They are more open to it, and they do it better.”

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