Stampen Media: From zero to a data-driven organisation
Paid content models and valuable local news are currently very popular among publishers. An outstanding example is Stampen Media AB. In 2017, the Swedish media company launched a new data-driven initiative based on the lean start-up method, with the help of our exhibitor MWM Group. The result is impressive: In just four months after launching their main title, there were 30,000 digital subscribers in total. We reveal how Stampen Media AB proceeded and what other content producers could learn from it about their readers.
The Swedish media group Stampen – including six daily newspapers and an outdoor media company, print houses and a distribution network – looks back on turbulent years. After a debt crisis, a comprehensive restructuring process started in 2016 which led to a successful outcome. Today, the news media part of the group has around 440 employees and a considerable 1.3 billion Swedish krona turnover, which is equivalent to about 125 million euros.
"When we started going into digital subscription and focus on reader revenues, we had to change fast” says Andreas Klarén, Chief Technical Officer at Stampen Media AB. "But at first we did not really have any idea what content people would pay for."
When timing is right – run!
The challenges were similar to those facing many media companies: circulation and turnover from the newspaper business were declining and ad revenues not offsetting the decline. Readers were increasingly consuming their information digitally and mobile. Also, five to ten years ago more or less all paid content approaches had failed. “We followed the development carefully and we saw things really started to change in 2016 when more and more publishers were successful.” So why not go this way? That’s when Stampen adjusted their strategy in this direction. “To manage and run a successful business attracting new subscribers and making them stay requires a data-driven organisation in all areas – product, editorial and marketing, and also cross functional teams putting different skills together," emphasises Andreas Klarén, who was responsible for the new data project at Stampen that started in May 2017. “We managed to put this together quite good launching our different titles with very few resources and in a tight schedule using a step by step approach”.
Stampen launched digital subscriptions and paid content for their first two local titles in June 2017, two others in August, one in September and then their flagship title – the regional newspaper Göteborgs-Posten – at the end of November. Four months after their launch was fully executed, they had more than 30,000 digital subscribers signing up to their paid content campaign initiative and having their digital only subscribers representing 16 percent of the total customer base.
Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise
To be able to launch quickly and get started, Stampen used best practice examples from other publishers and copied many things from their peers. “It was a good thing that readers finally were paying for journalism so 'Copy with pride', was basically our motto. We knew that in that time frame we wouldn’t be able to innovate", Klarén admits openly regarding especially the initiatives on the Scandinavian market. While other media houses had been experimenting with paid content since 2013, Stampen was a novice in the subject. Therefore, the Swedish publisher could learn from others who have operated their own platforms for years. “We realised most media houses had similar go-to market strategies. We also looked at different paywall models and what type of content seemed to be the drivers for customer acquisition. And we also exchanged a lot of ideas with others as we were not competing. For us it was crucial to find a sustainable business model for the industry in order to fulfil our mission: being a cornerstone of democratic society.”
After gathering learnings, Stampen chose a lean start-up method: The publisher developed a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the first minimally functioning version of a product. It was important to prioritise and start as simple as possible. This raw form of the product contains only the most necessary core functions and is continuously adjusted according to the observed needs of costumers based on their feedback. "We launched even though we only had limited analysis and access to data compared to our peers in the market," says Stampen's CTO. "We proceeded in iterations by launching title after title while monitoring certain KPI’s which we had benchmarked. And as they were met, we could just keep going”. Stampen was able to gradually recognise more KPIs and to collect more data, although that was a time consuming task in that early stage. At that time, the media outlet also continued to develop their insight platform.
From the beginning it was clear that the Stampen wanted to choose a modular approach towards building the overall solution. "We have a preferred development strategy where we are trying to use more third-party applications rather than developing our own solutions from scratch. It’s one thing to develop a product for a launch and another thing to maintain and continue development over time, because that’s where the real costs and challenges are,” Andreas explains. “So we need to make good partnerships as well. In our own product and development team we are less than 10 people. Compared to many other media companies of our size that is considered to be a very small team. So we have to be more selective overall.”
In 7 months starting from May 2017 the platform for benchmarks, data and insights was developed by MWM Group based on their solution Media365, which is a cloud-based service for data-collection and analysis for media companies. According to Stampen, one of the biggest challenges in the project has been improving the data quality and making it consistent. The media company has also taken next steps to strengthen the team by recruiting a data scientist who creates various prediction models and focuses on understanding churn and behaviour.
It’s all about digital revenue
In order to increase digital sales, the data-driven customer journey needs to be continuously optimised and could be described in the following steps: Awareness, Conversion, Customer Lifetime and Termination. This model from MWM Group is based on long experience with media businesses and provides analysis and actions adapted from best practices.
Awareness: In the first step, it is necessary to visualise data in order to create an awareness of data-based information and relationships – for example, in an attractively designed dashboard. How do unknown visitors behave on the website? Which is the right time to publish articles to increase the digital conversion rate?
Conversion: Now it is time to analyse why certain visitors do not opt for paid content and what steps lead them to jump off. At the same time, the media outlet needs to find out why other readers buy paid content. "We look at every single article, the design, the theme, the page visits and the number of purchases. We also check where the users come from – via direct page access, recommendation, search engine, social media or other articles," says Klarén. "Any premium article could or should potentially be a conversion trigger."
Customer Lifetime: In the next stage of development, focus is on reader retention. Now questions such as the following come up: Why are the customers engaged? When do they read the articles, how many pages do they visit and how do they interact with others, for example through comments, social media posts or likes? How does churn look like? Stampen uses their platform to find out more about how stories perform. "For the future of journalism, it's important that news are relevant to the locals, published at the right time and targeted to the right audience. All data insights can help us in finding new angles. But if we implement more personalised features it is also important that this doesn’t end up building even more filter bubbles," Klarén states.
Termination: Based on the new data-driven knowledge, it is now time to rethink and adapt the product again. Insights turned into actions.
Status so far
Currently, Stampen has achieved the following results with the new data-driven initiative:
- 35,000 digital only subscribers (ePaper + Premium web access)
- 33,000 customers have tried digital campaign month
- 16 % of total subscribers rely on digital products