Two years after adopting slower publishing, The Times of London sees 15 percent subscriber jump

The Times of London, which shifted two years ago to a publishing schedule of three daily digital editions, is seeing a payoff in one critical area: attracting and keeping subscribers.

Since moving to editions in March 2016, the Times’ overall subscriptions are up 15 percent to 463,000, 220,000 of which are digital-only. Compared to last April, the Times claims pageviews on mobile are up 45 percent and up 36 percent on the website.

“Before the editions were introduced, we had a phone app and a website that people didn’t visit much and didn’t like,” said Alan Hunter, head of digital at the Times and The Sunday Times. “The way we’re publishing now, taking our time over news, not chasing the narcotic rush of breaking news, but taking a more considered view of the world, it’s helped us offer something different from everything else.”

The Times introduced a metered option last year to generate registrations. The newspaper has been developing a base of registered users who get access to two free articles a week in exchange for their email address. Registered users have jumped from 1.8 million last summer to 3 million. Last summer, the publisher said people were four times more likely to subscribe after registering. The next phase: converting more of those registered users into paying subscribers.

Conversion tactics range from on-site messaging about how many free articles remain for a registered user to a weekly email with personalized article suggestions.

“Longer term, our plan is to supercharge engagement using our in-house content recommendation tool, nudges and more personalized emails that drive registered users along the journey toward subscription,” said Sarah Thomson, head of brand digital development for the Times and Sunday Times.

Since last September, 450 of its journalists have received training across 14 digital-specific areas like social, search engine optimization and data journalism.

“The cultural challenge of the newsroom is the most difficult thing in digital,” Hunter said. “But the serendipity of conversations now being overheard since getting the journalists closer to the developers has been very important.”

The Times has also worked to break down department silos typical of a legacy business. That’s meant coordinating better with marketing teams, which has helped increase subscriptions and registrations. Because News UK, the Times’ parent company, acquired radio broadcaster Wireless Group, Wireless stations — which had 4.6 million adult listeners in the first three months of 2018, according to radio audience measurement firm Rajar — like Virgin Radio and TalkSport can promote major stories the Times has investigated.

Now, stories are selected for large-scale promotion across departments based on their ability to convert people into subscribers or registered members, Hunter said. Stories like an investigation into child slavery in the U.K., published April 20, receive full promotion, which now also includes interactive mobile products and radio campaigns across Wireless’ network.

“We’re constantly honing the machine to make sure that works,” said Hunter. “In the pell-mell of a daily news cycle or a weekly one, that’s hard, but when we make sure we have big stories or features that convert really well, we put a lot of work behind them.”

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