Winnipeg Free Press: A Case of Combining Technology and Journalism

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Article ImageCompany: Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free Press is a daily newspaper based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and has the largest circulation of all newspapers in Canada. It is also the oldest. Founded in 1872 and originally called the Manitoba Free Press, the paper provides broad coverage of local, provincial, national, and international news, sports, business, and entertainment.   


Business Challenge

The digital revolution is nothing new, but many legacy media organizations are still trying to master the art of giving their online audience what they want, while bringing in enough revenue on the digital side to make up for dwindling income on the print end of the business. Winnipeg Free Press was no exception.

Vendor of Choice: cxense

Cxense (pronounced "see-sense") is a software company headquartered in Norway. It assists media, ecommerce, and consumer brands in taking control of their audience data to deliver more engaging and personalized user experiences. Customers include Condé Nast, Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Gannett, and, of course, Winnipeg Free Press.  


The Problem In-Depth

Commonly held web design wisdom suggests that homepage content should be easily consumed from a single screen. We've been told that too much scrolling serves to alienate readers. That logic has long driven website design and content delivery, but, as Winnipeg Free Press found, it's not necessarily the best way to provide an engaging reader experience. When content is customized to individually connect with readers, they'll not only keep scrolling and reading, but they'll also be willing to pay for the content they consume.

Winnipeg Free Press is just one of many content organizations that is finding the ability to customize the content engagement experience to potentially reinvigorate what has been considered to be a dying industry-print publications. Fortunately, Winnipeg Free Press is in an enviable position. It has the highest readership for a major metro newspaper in Canada. "That's a nice place for us to be," says Christian Panson, VP of digital content and audience revenue at the newspaper. This position has provided "a longer runway," he says. It has given the paper the ability to take some time to watch what others are doing in the digital space and to think strategically about how it might most effectively engage with readers.

Of course, publishers are looking for more than engagement; they need to somehow monetize the ability to consume content to ensure their long-term viability. There are a lot of payment models out there, but Panson says that as the paper reviewed the various options, it saw issues with all of them. This is why Winnipeg Free Press decided to try something different.

The Solution

Winnipeg Free Press recently teamed up with Cxense to develop and deliver an entirely personalized and demonstrably engaging content experience that follows users across all of their devices-desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones, etc. Winnipeg Free Press found that consumers will actually pay to consume this content.

Lauren Pedersen, VP of global marketing at Cxense, says, "We believe that it is in publishers' best interest to start really taking advantage of data to understand audiences better and to understand what each user wants." Pedersen points out that not every reader is looking for the same type of news. "Users coming into sites like the Winnipeg Free Press have different interests, whether that's sports, technology, or local/regional news," she says.

The newspaper took a different approach with the customization of its content, says Pedersen. Other clients, she says, might start out by personalizing a small section of their homepage. Winnipeg Free Press decided, instead, to customize the entire homepage of the newspaper. The results, she says, have led to users staying on the site longer and being more engaged with the content-which is exactly what the newspaper wanted.

"We came up with this metered micropayment strategy," says Panson. Readers can choose from a variety of subscription options, including traditional print, print and digital, and a unique 27-cents-per-article option that offers the risk-free ability to check out the content and receive a refund for any article they aren't happy with.

Not only does this payment model minimize risk for consumers, but it also provides the newspaper with data that indicates which pieces best captured-and held-the attention of readers. Further, the more readers engage with the site, the better the site knows what topics are of the most interest to a particular reader. "We're not just letting an algorithm decide which news to display," says Panson. "We're making content recommendations to you based on your past behavior." Another feature of the site is continuous scrolling. "When you hit the bottom of the page, it automatically serves up more content," says Panson.

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