eMarketer- The Economist App Replicates Print’s ‘Lean-Back’ Experience

A N   I N T E R V I E W   W I T H :Oscar GrutManaging Director

Economist Digital

In addition to his job as managing director of Economist Digital, Oscar Grut serves as group general counsel and company secretary for The Economist Group, roles he has held since joining the company in 1998. He launched The Economist Group’s digital editions business in 2010 and took on oversight of The Economist Digital (Economist.com and digital editions, including apps) in 2012. Grut spoke to eMarketer about what the publication has learned about how readers prefer to engage with its content online, particularly within its apps.

eMarketer: How long has The Economist content been available as an app and what platforms is it on?

Oscar Grut: Since November 2010, and it is available on iPad, iPhone, Android smartphones and 7-inch tablets.

eMarketer: What was the objective in developing the app?

Grut: Our strategy for smartphones actually comes out of an insight that we gained 10 years ago, when we were thinking about our strategy on the web. Back then, we made a mistake. We thought that the web would change completely how people read The Economist—we thought we would have to recreate it for the web. We conducted some research among our readership and found that we were wrong.

“When the Kindle appeared, followed by the iPad, we saw these devices actually offer that lean-back, immersive reading experience.”

What the readers told us is that, regardless of their age or job or field, they carve out this special place in their lives for lean-back, immersive reading experiences. [For] The Economist and certain other magazines and books, that lean-back, immersive, ritual reading experience wasn’t replaced by the web. They went to the web for different reasons—lean-forward, snacking experiences. The web is where readers can go and read our content, but also where they go to interact with each other and with our journalism. They take part in debates and discussions, so the web is much more a kind of community experience. [Meanwhile,] over the last 10 years, our print circulation has doubled.

When the Kindle appeared, followed by the iPad, we saw these devices actually offer that lean-back, immersive reading experience. Possibly, in some ways, these are superior to print because the delivery is so swift and the backlit screen brings out our charts, maps and graphs so beautifully. So that was a sort of a rebirth of lean-back reading.

When we developed The Economist for [Kindle and iPad] it was very much with a view to staying true to the print-reading experience. Our product [for these devices] is so much about the lean-back experience, it played very nicely into our hands because we produce long-form journalism.

eMarketer: What are the usage figures for the iPhone, iPad and Android apps since the November 2010 launch?

Grut: We now have 600,000 devices accessing our content from iPhone, iPad and Android smartphones every week. Seventy-five percent of those 600,000 are actually subscribers.

eMarketer: How much of your subscription base is electronic?

Grut: We have about 1.6 million subscribers around the world, and 125,000 digital-only subscribers.

eMarketer: Have you changed your apps since 2010 based on user feedback or other behavior?

Grut: When apps first launched, a lot of [marketers] went for the bells and whistles. We very consciously stayed away from that. One of the key factors is to keep the reading experience free from distractions. We don’t have that many bells and whistles in the app. It’s a very clean reading experience.

We work on a number of improvements as we go along.

“We don’t have that many bells and whistles in the app. It’s a very clean reading experience.”

We have the audio edition—the entire Economist read by professional newsreaders. You can download the whole magazine in audio and toggle between listening and reading, depending on how you prefer it. We’ve introduced bookmarking so that you can bookmark articles that you want to collect on the side or read later. We’ve introduced sharing on the iPad so you can share articles by email or through your social network.

eMarketer: Don’t advertisers want more interactivity in the ads they buy?

Grut: We do offer interactivity. If an advertiser wants it, a reader can tap the ad and then get taken through to the advertiser’s website or microsite to engage more with advertisements. [We offer] the beauty of full-page print advertising, but with some of the benefits that you get online as well.

I think the advertising industry is generally quite slow to embrace change. That is something that we’ll need to work on, although I’m seeing sort of increasing interest from those advertisers.

Very few traditional media brands can be materially profitable without advertisers. But The Economist’s model is very much circulation-revenue based. We make more revenue from circulation than advertising. Still, it’s early days.

eMarketer: How are the ads performing in the app?

Grut: I think we have a very good advertising model. But, undoubtedly, the volume that we have in print is not transferring to digital editions yet. We’re seeing quite a lot of click through. I think the thing that isn’t established yet is creative standards for advertising in digital editions.

eMarketer: What audience segments do you target with your ads?

Grut: We used to be very focused on demographics of our subscribers. [They were] the kind of the high-end, high earning, C-suite type of reader. But we’ve actually changed that quite a lot over the years.

We’re more interested now in psychographics. Very broadly put, The Economist reader is intellectually curious.

eMarketer: Does that psychographic trait differ between the print and the app subscribers?

Grut: The similarities between our app readers and our print readers are actually extraordinary. I would say that if there’s a difference, it’s principally that the app readers tend to skew a little bit younger.

We did a subscriber study recently with a number of questions that were geared around demographics. The scoring in print, in app and online was incredibly similar. They all said that if a product really impresses them, they’ll make a point of telling other people about it. [Our subscribers] are idea generators and idea spreaders.

“You can download the whole magazine in audio and toggle between listening and reading, depending on how you prefer it.”

The Economist appeals to the intellectually curious, people who want to be stimulated by our writing—opinion-formers, what we call the “ideas people”—and apps are a great way to introduce this large and growing global audience to our brand and content.

One of the wonderful things that we’re finding is that apps also provide us a way of finding new audiences. People are shifting their reading habits from print to digital or straddling both. If we look at our digital-only subscribers, over 70% of our digital-only subscribers are new to The Economist. We offer Editor’s Highlights in our apps, which are an opportunity for people to sample The Economist.

eMarketer: How does that work?

Grut: If you go to the app store and you download one of our apps, you get six articles chosen by the editor each week that are free to access. This offers readers a kind of sampling mechanism that’s not readily available in print, and provides a great way for people to discover the content and discover the brand and decide whether or not it’s for them. Our experience to date says this is actually driving a lot of new interest and new subscribers to The Economist.

eMarketer: How are you driving people to the app?

Grut: We’re trialing a lot of things. We do our traditional circulation marketing and use email lists. Another great way of driving people to subscribe is to drive them to our website, where they can sample content. They can discover the quality of the journalism and be encouraged to download the app and try it out for themselves.

eMarketer: There’s so many apps out there—how do you cut through the clutter?

Grut: If they are on Newsstand, there’s a good filter for people to find content. People also find us through social. We have quite a large social footprint—a million Facebook fans and 2 million Twitter followers.

“Very broadly put, The Economist reader is intellectually curious.”

eMarketer: How do you market your other apps?

Grut: Our apps for “The World in Figures” and the “Intelligent Life” offer avenues for readers to discover other publications of The Economist Group. They also help to extend the brand. Like The Economist app itself, they allow readers to sample and thereby discover the breadth and quality of writing and analysis that we produce. We market these apps in print, through social, through email newsletters, on Economist.com and within The Economist apps. Since Economist.com has 8 million unique visitors each month, The Economist apps have a weekly readership of 600,000 and a monthly readership of close to 1.2 million, that can be very effective.

eMarketer: On what do you base your success?

Grut: Our success is based on luck, and also a clear proposition that is focused on what our readers want: the lean-back, immersive reading that we deliver in the weekly issue of The Economist in print and in digital editions, and the lean-forward, social- and community-driven experience that we deliver through Economist.com and our social presence.
Interview conducted by Kris Oser on May 22, 2012



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