Six years later, at our latest DME conference, Head of Product Ole Werring shared how even Amedia, a beacon of inspiration for subs and data strategy in the industry, stumbles sometimes but eventually rights the ship. In this case, it was with its +Alt bundled subscription offer.

A few years ago, Norway’s Amedia Group decided to create a product that would allow subscribers to access content from across their many titles, something that numerous readers had requested.

With more than 100 (mostly local) news titles and 1,100 journalists, Amedia is a large media group in a small country: Norway has a population of 5.5 million people. A high percentage of this population has direct connections to several places around the country, said Werring.

Using himself as an example, Werring said he was born in Bergen on Norway’s southwest coast, but was raised and went to university in Trondheim, near the country’s centre. His first job was in the north, and then he moved to Oslo, in the southeast. He has a cabin in the mountains in the middle of Norway, and his youngest son lives in the north.

“That means I actually feel close to many locations around the country, and in all of these places we have local news media,” he told participants at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe Conference in late April in Vienna.

Noting that 20 percent of Norwegians own vacation cabins typically either in the mountains or along the country’s coast, many of Amedia’s subscribers feel connected to other parts of the country. This situation goes against the conventional wisdom that readers will only subscribe to a local news product that provides news coverage for where they actually live.

Joining a business need with a user need

Realising the group had both a business need (how to make better use of the networking opportunities among their many titles) and a user need (requests for easier access to more of Amedia’s news sites), “we tried to let those needs meet each other,” Werring said.

The result was a multi-subscription bundle product, called +Alt, that allowed users to get news from all of Amedia’s titles.

Launched during the pandemic, the publishing house did a test where readers could upgrade for free from one newspaper subscription to up to their then-total of 73 titles, Werring said.

While the upgrade was free, all Amedia’s titles are hard-paywalled, so to see any content, a reader must already be a paying subscriber. And while initially free, the plan was to eventually charge an additional fee for +Alt, (which they now do).

“As a team, we wondered how much we will actually get from this? How many subscribers will upgrade? A colleague of mine said ‘If we get 50,000 upgrades, I will shave my head,’ ” he said.

They got 51,000 upgrades in the first 24-hours.

Two months later, that number hit 170,000.

Dissatisfaction among overwhelmed users

However, all wasn’t quite well with the new product.

Interviews with users, which Amedia began conducting shortly after the launch, turned up some major issues.

“Very early we started to do video interviews: ‘What do you think about it?’ ‘How does it work?’ We were actually filming them to see how they used it. And the feedback was very interesting and important for us. Some of the users were just really happy having access to three or four newspapers that they knew,” Werring said.

“But for many, this product was hard to use. Maybe they didn’t know the name of the newspapers, even though they were interested in the location. … The problem was that it was too much, and hard to navigate. They didn’t really understand how to get value from it,” he added.

Readers also told them they want to find everything in one place, and have it personalised to help find articles that they didn’t know they would see, and would read.

Back to the drawing board

A deflated product development team went back to the drawing board.

“We had to figure out what to do,” he said. “The conclusion was ‘Let’s present all the content on one platform, and the users will help us to find what they are interested in. And maybe we can put a little personalisation on top.’ “

The team built a platform and started adding 1,000 news articles every day to it. They also uploaded a whole history of back stories, he said.

Werring’s team built the first version from May 2021 to August 2022, and then started testing it onto the market.

“We tested it with 1,000 users, and we tested it for three months,” he said.

The tests were largely based on quantitative measurements where retention is the most important parameter. High retention means people are coming back, which means it gives value to the user, Werring said.

“If we have low retention, we have some problems: either we don’t match their needs or there are some pain points or problems that we have to sort out,” he added.

They also did a lot of other tests, including talking with people in a variety of places, such as at work, or on the street, with family members and so on.

“These are typically 30-minute, deep talks with users,” Werring said. “And we also sometimes test with external companies to have an independent voice because we always get a little bit biased when we try to test our own product.”

Disappointing results

After the first week, an average of only 10 percent of readers used the product again. In the second week, that fell to 8 percent.

“If we had more weeks, we’d see worse numbers and onwards, the numbers kept declining,” Werring said. “We concluded we actually had failed: something was wrong with the product. So the conclusion was we did not meet the user needs or there were some pain points that we didn’t identify.

“And you can imagine how the development team that had been working for a year on this felt,” he added.

To find out what was wrong, they immediately started doing new tests. They had a strong hypothesis that there was something wrong with the design, Werring said.

During the interviews, most users pointed at the same problems.

“They said that the idea was good, but it was too confusing to use it,” he said.

The development team then did a three-day “Design sprint” to work out what they should do next.

After determining the problem and coming up with a solution, they went back to work and rebuilt the whole service, Werring said.

“The solution to the problem seemed to be very clear. We made a new structure that was actually to separate the service into two parts,” he said.

One part was a “home area,” where readers could follow the specific newspapers they are interested in.

The second part was a “discover feed” where the platform could offer more personalisation and users could find more stories from the rest of the country that they otherwise might not know they wanted to read, he said.

The product development team created the new version in about 3-4 weeks, then they did new tests in November and December last year, Werring said.

This time around, the users were impressed.

Werring said the product team now felt a little bit better. However, they also realised that what readers say is one thing, but what they actually do can be another, so they paid close attention to the numbers.

“When we looked at the retention, the question was, ‘Will the retention numbers confirm what they say or not?’

After extensive testing across three user cohorts involving nearly 10,000 readers in three months (January to March of this year), the results clearly showed far better results than those of the tests of the earlier version.

“It was more than four times as much retention in week one, and in week six we had retention that was more than eight times higher. And if you look at the latest weeks, we will see rates that are more than 50 percent, which is quite high,” Werring said.

Revised product launched in mid-April

Now the product team definitely felt better and began discussing plans for a launch.

“We don’t know how this will turn out, but last week (on 18 April) we launched it to all existing users, meaning 360,000 subscribers in Norway,” Werring said.

Adding in registered users who live in the same household as subscribers, he said around half a million Norwegians now have access to the revised product with a pricing strategy that begins at NOK 299 a month (approximately 25.60 euros)

Amedia then launched a campaign aimed at their digital users to widen awareness of the +Alt product among their readers. In the next couple of weeks, Werring said they’ll also begin national campaigns about it aimed at non-subscribers.

The Amedia case obviously has its unique characteristics, especially with the +Alt model, but the process that it pursued to improve a waning product is a lesson any publisher can learn from.

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