Sometimes the solution to a complicated problem means thinking outside the box.
Or outside the country.
Just ask Patrick Logue, the digital editor of the Irish Times. Logue joined the 160-year-old paper in 1996 when its website was just two years old, a shadow of the print edition.
In the more than two decades since his arrival, the editor has seen the paper move away from the traditional newsstand sales-dependent model and transform into a profitable multi-platform media organization that in recent years has actually seen its audience grow.
“It’s been a mammoth task,” says Logue of the transitions he’s witnessed. “The traditional model is broken, so we’re creating a new one focused on finding new audiences and revenue.”
As other Irish papers have watched their circulation numbers shrink, Logue and his team are drawing in new readers in droves – and not from where or how you might think.
Back 2015, print sales at the Times were plummeting and online advertising was hardly making up for it. The Times’ circulation had dropped 45 percent in the previous five years, and things were looking dire. It felt like a race to the bottom, as other publications pumped out click-bait stories in pursuit of page views.
The Times made a bold decision. Instead of focusing on page views in the hopes of generating advertising revenue, they would create premium content that users would be willing to pay for. Up until then, all the major Irish dailies had been providing their online content for free.
That year, the Times became the first Irish daily to introduce a digital “leaky” paywall meaning readers could view 10 articles for free each week, but to read more, they had to subscribe for either 12 or 16 euros ($13.40 or $17.86) a month. “We decided that we were not going to chase traffic in an aggressive manner,” says Logue.
The other benefit of this approach? Developing content paying readers want.
Logue says the paper then began using the new data generated by online readership to discover what was important to readers — be it abortion laws, Irish History, or these days, Brexit.
“We become the experts on these big issues,” he says. “We break things down in simple ways using explainers, infographics, and evergreen digital content that informs the reader.”
This dedicated focus on quality has led to several Times stories dominating global news cycles. A story reporting the Times’ exit poll of the 2018 abortion referendum was viewed more than a million times, with the BBC breaking into regular programming to report the poll’s results. An editorial about Donald Trump’s ties to fascism by revered columnist Fintan O’Toole broke the paper’s record with 1.3 million page views.
”“The traditional model is broken, so we’re creating a new one focused on finding new audiences and revenue.”Patrick LogueDigital Editor, The Irish Times
Data-driven Community Building
Audience data has continued to reveal unexpected opportunities to develop active, loyal communities with existing readers. For example, one of Logue’s responsibilities is to search for new, untapped readers, and he was surprised to find them beyond Ireland’s borders.
“We recognized that there is a large Irish diaspora around the world,” he says of the one in six people born in Ireland who now lives overseas. “They’re hungry for a sense of community and for information from home.”
To satiate this audience, Logue created the paper’s Abroad Network. Readers anywhere in the world can sign up and will receive a weekly email containing a collection of Times stories as well as e-ballots to participate in polls about important political events.
”“We recognized there is a large Irish diaspora...they're hungry for a sense of community and for information from home.”Patrick LogueDigital Editor, The Irish Times
Abroad Network readers are also encouraged to contribute as photographers, writers or interviewees to the online project Generation Emigration, a digital section featuring the images and personal narratives of Irish readers living abroad, including a personal report from New Zealand after the Christchurch mass shooting in New Zealand, reports from the front lines of climate change in Australia, and numerous essays on Brexit from Irish citizens living in the United Kingdom.
“We found these readers were looking for a sense of community and were also willing to contributing content,” he says. “Generation Emigration brought in a new audience, and in a very real sense created that community.”
Logue explains that the overall goal is to drive traffic, engagement and ultimately subscriptions while at the same time bringing in ad revenue. It has proved effective — some 35 percent of the Times’ page views now come from outside Ireland, and the Abroad Network has 35,000 members.
This two-fold approach of quality content and community building within its readership has been an important part of the strategy that has kept the Times in the black in recent years.
An audit of the paper in February of 2019 showed digital edition daily circulation of 21,275 — a 26 percent increase over the previous year. The paper also grew its total daily circulation by two percent to 79,406, with sales of digital subscriptions rising more quickly than the decline of print. As such, digital revenue has grown by 8.7 percent in 2018 even as print sales dropped by 8 percent. The paper posted a €2 million euro (US$2,200,000) profit last year — which is no small feat in today’s newspaper market.
Read more about how media companies can drive retention, loyalty and trust in our guide.