When print and online collide: Inside The Economist’s digital strategy

Not since the industrial revolution have more business sectors faced such radical change, but few have dealt with a bigger disruption in the wake of digital technologies than the publishing industry.

Thanks to digital media, the dissemination of news and knowledge will never be the same again, and the last decade reads like one long obituary of newspapers and magazines that have shut off their print production for good.

In the UK we said goodbye to The Independent and The Independent on Sunday as they were forced to bank on pixels over ink, while The Guardian continues to make a loss with revenues from online unable to catch up to lost print sales.

But despite all this, 173-year-old current affairs magazine The Economist is breaking the mould – its print circulation, far from dying, is up 5% and global revenues are £330 million.

Subrata Mukherjee, The Economist’s VP of product, says that its resilience has been down to getting the balance right between embracing new technologies and understanding how to sell people a print product they truly value.

‘We don’t want to say to our customers that print is dead and digital is the new thing, because we don’t want to be distracted by that message,’ says Mukherjee. ‘Wherever the customer wants us, we’ll be there the best we can.

‘We’ve done focus groups with our readers, many of them in universities, and they have said they prefer our print content to digital because when they’re using this content for academic reasons, for debates or coursework, they feel happy that they can tear it up and share it and write notes, and they don’t want the distraction of social media.’

The key to straddling both worlds successfully has been a hugely aspirational IT transformation that’s focused on using data to better understand what content users want to read and how to package and sell it to them – changing to suit their needs and drive the lifetime loyalty of both offline and online readers.

This started out four years ago, with Mukherjee leading the project to change one bit of the ecosystem at a time, but it soon became clear that doing bits and pieces here and there wasn’t going to cut it.

Instead, he set out on a total digital transformation with the overarching objective of increasing the ‘lifetime value’ of each customer, making it the biggest digital overhaul of its kind ever to take place at the company.

The programme has focused on three areas: meeting business growth objectives and increasing time to market for new products and services; reducing customer churn, improving engagement and improving customer loyalty; and increasing ‘customer delight’, with a more seamless and enjoyable customer service experience.

‘We were looking to find one magical product to do all of this, but very soon realised that was a utopian goal,’ says Mukherjee, ‘so we went into a best of breed kind of mentality, putting different systems together centred around different platforms.’

Since the programme started in 2005, Mukherjee’s team has begun piloting the Zuora subscription platform, Salesforce CRM, Gluu’s open source authentication and API access management, and a new data master management platform, including data warehouses with metadata on top.

Read the full article at: www.information-age.com

Read Zuora’s interview with Subrata Mukherjee of The Economist here and check out our guide – The New Paywall: Strategies for Newspaper Readership Growth

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