Most newspapers found its online form in 1998, and stayed there. Today, good alternatives are around en masse. It makes me wonder why newspapers aren’t putting more effort into creating great digital products that can compete with the new kids on the block.
In 2009, newspapers owned less than 1 percent of U.S. online audience page views and time spent. Since then, the marketshare has only decreased.
Newspapers of the world: here are 12 hints to things you’re doing wrong that continue to puzzle me.
1. Pushing content to me I don't want to read
Think of a print newspaper where 20% of the content are reruns from yesterday. That’s absurd – but not absurd enough to keep newspapers exposing digital readers to just that.
It seems as if you really believe I haven’t seen it. Your constant quest for the evergreen stories that can be reused again and again and still be valid and relevant has become a cliche. Try harder. Get to know me. I will click on any old rerun article if its relevant to me and the context I’m in, but stop pretending you reinvented the wheel all over.
2. Utter disregard of where I am
I know that online newspapers can see where I am geographically. Still, it that doesn’t change the content I’m being presented. If Copenhagen is going to be drowned in rain showers and thunder, then I actually want to know. But I’m not really interested in the sunny weather that covers the other end of the country.
Online ads are starting to become local. It’s about time that online newspapers let the front page reflect where I am.
3. Utter disregard of my reading habits
I don’t read about sports. I don’t read about cars. When online newspapers stubbornly refuses to understand this, they’ve found an effective way of making themselves irrelevant.
Personalization seem to be a difficult feat for most editorial teams. Is there only one truth? One package of content? I’ve seen editorially selected content work brilliantly well for niche sites, but it seems like omnibus newspapers can’t quite get it right. I’d buy in on the importance of editorially selecting stories if the stories were important and relevant – but that’s not really how it is.
Instead, online newspapers are undermining their own credibility when they choose to show the same digital product to me, my mom, and her mom. It’s a mystery to me why newspapers are still operating under what seems to be the dogma of print. It seems like I’ll keep wondering until the last newspapers have turned its key.
Online ads have been pushing content to me for several years that I’ve previously shown interest in.
4. They stop even though I want more
I’m scrolling down the front page through a selection of stories I’ve already read, that are old, or just uninteresting on the hunt for something interesting. I’ve got time to kill and I’d like to use this time on the newspapers product and brand. This is when something completely weird and completely incomprehensible happens: I reach the product’s digital end. The newspapers is asking me to leave. Apparently, they haven’t got anymore articles left. Whether this is due to ideology, technical debt, or thinking in old habits is insignificant to me. The result is the same; readers spend their time elsewhere.
5. Content I'm not allowed to see
Online newspapers are still to find a good way to distinguish between paid and free. At least a good way that enhances the digital user experience. Their constant efforts to find a business model that will yield similar returns as that of the soon ancient print model, are only making competitors shine even more. Front pages sprinkled with locked articles exerts noise and pressure to purchase. Force-feeding doesn’t help – especially not when I’m not even sure what product they’re trying to sell me. Everybody understands that the print subscription profits need replacement – but this can be done better.
Conversion experts will say that the more relevant you can make a purchase, the higher conversion rates will be. Use the opportunity of knowing my preferences through my browsing behavior to present me with relevant paid content that is relevant to me.
6. Online video is so important the product suffers
A good while back, I made a rule for myself: video stories should only be clicked under extreme circumstances. Two unwanted things happen when I defy my previous experience and click anyway: I end up on a TV-portal and I have to watch an unpredictable number of ads of unpredictable length. Did the newspapers ever wonder why Facebook aren’t doing it like that? When strategies and KPIs become so important that the product must suffer, that’s exactly what happens; the product suffers.
7. Advertorials with the same stories every day
The growth of advertiser paid content has reinforced the impression of online newspapers having mostly old and light content. The fact that some of the content actually is interesting, sends a disturbing message to the reader – but that’s another story. This problem is going to go away by itself, as it’s only a question about time when the advertisers will do well without the newspapers.
8. Utter disregard of the welfare of my browser
If I did a blind test with the speakers turned off, guessing whether I’m on a newspaper web site or on any other site, I would spot the newspaper site after 10 seconds. That’s when my CPU fan starts spinning like crazy.
Having pages plastered with processor-intensive display advertisements has two effects: the browser window pops up and down moving elements around, as more banners are finally loaded and two, my browser starts halting. The site itself may load instantly, but most ad servers connected to ad exchanges take at least 1 second before they have something ready to display. Having 5-10 display banners on one page does a good job of driving me crazy.
A typical article on nytimes.com includes 192 requests and 2 megabytes of data and takes me 4 minutes to completely load. An article on wikipedia includes 28 requests and 168 kilobytes of data and takes 983 milliseconds to load.
9. Too much going on
Not only are newspapers presenting me with irrelevant content – in their attempt to just show me something of interest, they seem to show me as much as possible, both editorial stories and display ads, in the hope that I’ll be inspired and click. Rather show me one thing at a time and ensure that all your careful editorial selection gets to me. Show me only what’s relevant.
10. Hordes of click-bait stories
The click-bait takeover has undermined my idea about the news-brand, the value of spending time on the service, and makes other sources seem even more attractive.
11. Not on the reader's side
In ancient times, we could keep the naive idea about newspapers being on our side. Now, it’s too obvious that they’ve chosen a side, and that it’s not the readers’. Newspapers let the advertises haunt us and make products that are controlled by the industry’s internal currency, even though it hurts our user experience. One example: go from an article back to the front page and wait… as the front page loads yet another time. Just to generate another page view. As users we need to look to other safe havens, and that’s exactly what we do.
12. Better to read from social media
Friends and algorithms give me a more relevant selection of content than the newspapers master or want. When I’ve read an article, I click it away to get back to my feed. When it’s the aggregators who give me the best experience, it’s weird that the newspapers don’t develop products that do the same.