Newslaundry, an independent and entirely digital newsroom, was one of the earliest players in India to test subscriptions. 

Launched in 2012, the company produces content across multiple formats including video, text, comics and podcast, and averages more than 20 million monthly social media impressions.

A core target for the company is to deliver user-centric news products. These efforts have culminated into a robust app offering, built on a business model to prioritise subscriber needs while ensuring accessibility. 

The Newslaundry app is now the seventh top-grossing app on Google Play Store, with over 60,000 downloads, and has generated a revenue of more than INR 76 lakhs (approximately 84,255 euros) since its release last year.

“As an ad-free website, we serve our readers, and not advertisers. This translates to building products that have not been tried in the Indian digital media ecosystem – from bundled subscriptions to accessibility tools,” said Chitranshu Tewari, Head of Product and Revenue.

Tewari will be joining us for our AI Summit 2024 in Bengaluru, India on July 8. Click on the banner for more details.

Extensive beta-testing to improve user experience

A 3-person tech team beta-tested the app with a sample of 3,000 paying subscribers, whose feedback helped tweak it and fix bugs.

It was publicly released in April 2023, and allows subscribers to access podcasts, make payments, manage subscriptions, engage with stories, and buy merchandise.

With limited financial resources, Newslaundry turned to its readers for support and was able to raise Rs 15 lakh (about 16,629 euros) through a crowdfunding campaign. This made it India’s first ad-free, crowdfunded, independent news media app.

The team upped the ante with the product design, offering features such as custom notifications, playback speed control, the ability to delete user data, and custom payment options. 

Additionally, the app integrated reader-controlled features for convenience. This included bookmarks, offline consumption, podcast downloads, languages, dark mode, playback features, saving and sharing, sleep control, offline consumption, and show notes.

“This app is evidence of how even a small newsroom can deliver an innovative product by constantly evolving, putting user needs at the forefront, and fostering a sense of community among our subscribers,” Tewari said.

“In India, you see several newsrooms turning to subscriptions since the ad revenue over the last 5-6 years has gotten smaller. Even now, India is a very price-sensitive market. And so, we need a lot of advocacy and marketing to make people understand why they must pay for news,” he added.

Notably, the success of the app extends beyond its user base. In October, Newslaundry launched a bundled subscription with The News Minute (an Indian digital news outlet), adding its podcasts on the app. 

The News Minute collaboration was not merely a product strategy but also to build merit and brand. “We share a lot of values with them, especially by way of editorial coverage, ground reports and sharp, nuanced analysis,” he added.

Both the organisations leveraged each other’s strengths: Newslaundry with its strong subscription model and The News Minute with its comprehensive coverage of South India, focusing sharply on issues at the intersection of caste and gender. 

Newslaundry is in the process of partnering with two more publishers. 

“Journalism products are often notorious for offering a bad user experience. We don’t have that excuse. Funded by a community of more than 50,000 paying readers, we can’t afford to offer a bad product experience. If a user is paying anywhere between INR 3,000 to INR 10,000 every year for a Newslaundry subscription, they will unsubscribe if we don’t offer a good experience,” he said.

Enhancing privacy with custom infrastructure

The team began by surveying and understanding the frameworks and infrastructure best suited to deliver such a product, considering cross-platforms such as React Native and Flutter, as well as native platforms such as Kotlin and Swift. 

“We chose React Native over others to suit our small team; it makes it easier for us to push updates and use existing libraries for critical functions,” Tewari said.

The team set up a new server to store the user database. “While most publishers rely on a range of SAAS products for management and processing user data as it’s often cheaper, easier and prevents maintenance issues,” he explained, “We chose to build our own server to enhance privacy controls and gain control of user data.” 

During the past few months, the team has also moved the Newslaundry website to this server.

Results, outcomes and learnings

The app enabled the team to effectively monitor podcast analytics for paywalled content, a capability they previously lacked and one that ended their reliance on third-party tools. 

It not only boosted engagement rates but also increased the podcast completion rate. It has also helped drive user engagement and time spent, tripling the number of podcast downloads.

The newsroom averages 34,000+ monthly streams since the launch

Tewari said the biggest lesson they’ve learned was the significance of listening to and involving subscribers in the development process. 

Looking back, he said they could have done two things differently on the tech side:

Library usage: As part of the React Native framework, they used various libraries for app functions. While big newsrooms have the bandwidth to design their own libraries, this was not an option for their small team with limited resources. “However, we could have picked a few critical functions to develop in-house. The downside of using libraries set up by others is that you’re often dependent on them for updates,” he said.
During the app’s design phase, they overlooked accessibility for people with disabilities. With a significant population of 25 million people with disabilities in India relying on assistive technology to use the internet, this was a critical need they failed to address in the initial product build

Making news accessible

That said, Newslaundry went back to the drawing board to research accessibility best practices. After nearly six months of development and testing, they rolled out a bunch of features that make the app and website more accessible to users with disabilities. 

In the testing phase, Tewari established a direct line of contact with Newslaundry users and gave them his phone number. More than 80 users reached out to him via WhatsApp voice notes to share their thoughts on what they liked, what didn’t work, and what could be improved.

Here’s what the newsroom implemented:

Screen reader compatibility: “Users with visual impairments rely on screen reader software to navigate apps. This feature makes our website and app compatible with screen readers in iOS, Windows, MacOS, and Android, as well as leading screen reader software such as JAWS and NVDA,” he said. 

They also have semantic HTML and ARIA labels, hints and roles that help visually disabled users with additional context.

Colour filters and contrast themes: Users can choose between high-contrast and low-contrast designs to tweak the contrast between text and background for better readability.

Dyslexia font to make text more readable for dyslexic users, and motion control to help users with ADHD.

Transcripts and subtitles: An in-built, one-click transcript for podcasts, and a read-aloud functionality for all text stories. Plus, closed captions for all videos.

Voice search with just a tap, with filters for authors, sections and tags

Reader mode: This enhances the reader experience by eliminating all distractions in the form of sidebars and banners, presenting stories in a clean format optimised for reading. 

“We have always tried to create a clean, no-distraction design. It helps that we don’t have any ads. After all, we all hate pop-ups, banners and ads in the middle of a story page,” Tewari said. 

Since the launch, screen reader compatibility has been the most used feature, followed by podcast transcriptions. Around 8,500 unique users are trying out the new features.

Newslaundry won the Best Innovative Digital Product at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Awards Worldwide, the results of which were announced at our recent Congress in Copenhagen.

The post User-centric innovation drives subscriptions at Newslaundry appeared first on WAN-IFRA.