How Publishers Can Build Stronger Reader Habits

building reader habits for digital publishing

It wasn’t long ago that the print newspaper was a part of practically everyone’s morning routine. After the paper arrived, people would pick it up and scan sections over coffee, on the daily commute, or maybe as a way to wind down at the end of the day.

For publishers, building these reader habits is a key part of keeping audiences engaged. A recent Digital Content Next post covers the importance of forming habits in publisher strategy, pointing out:

Consumer engagement is a critical component of news publishers’ direct to consumer revenue strategies. According to the International News Media Association’s (INMA) new report, Unpacking the Reader-Subscriber Lifetime Customer Journey, every publisher component from content to membership programs and e-newsletters, must reflect a strong and unified value proposition to consumers in order to be habit-forming.

In print publishing, the regular delivery of physical content helps publishers work their way into reader routines and form reading habits. But in the digital world, content comes at us continually from all sides, all platforms, at all times. With seemingly-infinite digital content freely available from endless sources, publishers must develop audience habits a bit differently.

Why Digital Reader Habits Matter

Going into 2019, one of the top priorities for publishers continues to be strengthening audience relationships. Strong audience relationships and reader habits go hand-in-hand. The more people see your content, the more they see the value of your content, driving deeper engagement and reinforcing the relationship.

More importantly, habits increase the lifetime value of your audience. While publishers’ business models may vary, the monetization benefits of strong reader habits are ever-present, no matter how you drive revenue:

  • Ad-supported publishers will see increased ad impressions from frequent content consumption. Plus, as individual readers consume more content, the additional first-party audience data gained from these frequent visitors will prove valuable for advertisers.
  • For publishers with a paywall, habitual users will hit the meter quickly, perhaps enticing them to subscribe after they see value in reading content beyond that. Once converted into a paying subscriber, subscribers with strong reading habits are also more likely to stay subscribed.
  • Donation-supported publishers or publishers with a membership model can earn the continued trust of their audience through repeated content consumption. When they know the value of your content, even readers who typically turn to paywall workarounds may choose to support your cause anyway.

Where can digital reader habits be created?

To form reader habits, you need direct connections with your audience. That means publishers probably won’t see reader habits develop on platforms. Your Facebook followers might have a strong social media habit, but their habit is with the platform, not your content. As some publishers found out the hard way in 2018, one tweak of the platform algorithm, and your audience (and their reading habits) can disappear.

Publisher apps can be a powerful way to insert yourself into a user’s home screen, and in turn, their routine. Unfortunately apps don’t foster reading habits as often as their publishers would like. On average, users delete apps 5.8 days after they download them, if they even download them at all. After all, users typically spend 90% of their app time with only a few select apps.

In recent years, publishers have turned to bots and elaborate gamification gimmicks to build reader habits, but vehicles for habit-building can be as simple as the communication channels you already regularly use. Like email.

In the digital world, email is the closest thing to getting a print newspaper or magazine delivered to your door. Publishers send newsletters at regular intervals, delivering content straight to your address in a finite, self-contained format perfect for consumption over coffee. This makes the inbox a prime channel for helping publishers build the reader habits that lead to sustained engagement, paid subscriptions, and lasting relationships.

Tips for Building Audience Habits with Email

As you work to build audience habits in the inbox, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) First, make the value proposition clear for email subscribers. As the INMA report points out, habits are reinforced by reward. For your audience, the “reward" may be getting a convenient way to consume quality content or even the satisfaction of staying informed on a topic they care about. Communicate this value by using your email capture form to explain the value of receiving a newsletter, then sending an engaging welcome email that demonstrates the value they’ll receive from future newsletters.

2) Send relevant content. – According to Return Path data, new subscribers are more likely to engage with your email than tenured subscribers. That means your window to build reader habits is limited, but if subscribers who open your email find content they like, they might be more likely to keep opening. A handful of ways you might increase relevance:

3) Don’t forget deliverability. It’s hard to build regular newsletter reading habits if your newsletters don’t make it to the inbox. Your sender reputation affects whether mailbox providers put your newsletters in the inbox or spam. If you send email from a shared IP address and you’re seeing less-than-ideal inbox placement, you may consider moving to a dedicated IP, where you’ll have full control of your reputation.

4) Rebuild lapsed habits. Some publishers may try to preserve their inbox placement by removing disengaged subscribers from their email list, but you shouldn’t ditch these subscribers without an attempt to wake them up first. It takes comparably less effort to re-engage a previously-engaged subscriber than it does to win a new one, which is why newsletter re-engagement efforts are an important part of any publisher email program. By building re-engagement tactics into your email lifecycle, you can help build and sustain lasting newsletter habits.

Content Marketing Coordinator, PostUp