"In the fall of 2019, we made the business decision to go digital in a big way," said Bill Patterson, Publisher for the Denton Record-Chronicle. "Selling print orders was really difficult for us and we've had a lot of churn over the last several years. The goal was for us to have a Live e-Edition seven days a week, with a print edition only on Wednesday and Saturday."
The Denton Record-Chronicle has served Denton County, Texas with a daily print newspaper for more than a century. To make the transition to fewer print days, the team launched a new app, paywall, and subscription plans, plus made changes to how the paper was distributed.
Now less than six months in, 75% of print subscribers have registered for digital access. The paper's website, DentonRC.com, has roughly 300,000 unique visitors and over two million pageviews each month.
Digital news in the time of COVID-19
The original plan was for digital access to be in place before local elections. "We planned our official cutover from seven days a week to two for the first Monday in May 2020," Patterson said. "We did that because of the timing of our city council elections with no idea of the coming pandemic. Certainly the timing ended up being of benefit to us during COVID-19 with the huge uptick in our online access."
Changing from a morning paper to an e-Edition frequently updated throughout the day means the Denton Record-Chronicle can provide more timely information.
"Our e-Edition allows us to deliver content without having to deal with any early press deadlines," Patterson said. "The latest news we can provide on COVID through the evening, especially at first, was of importance. When decisions were being made early on about closings, if we were primarily still print-only, we would have missed out on lots of that breaking news."
"Without a doubt the pandemic has been an awakening for everyone. And it has been no exception to our local businesses and advertising customers," Patterson said. "It's also helped us as we work to transition them to our digital first focus. The consumption of content digitally has really helped push everyone on the same page regarding the value of digital."
Positive feedback from readers
Readers in the 80-90+ age demographic make up a significant portion of those converting to digital access, defying the notion that older age groups shy away from digital. "The feedback we are getting from our readers, especially those that have been long time print subscribers, has been really good. They have been great to accept the change."
The Denton Record-Chronicle continues to see print subscribers registering for digital access. "The acceptance of our digital subscriptions has been really good," Patterson said. "But the number of new digital only subscribers and those switching to digital only has also been gratifying."
"Sure we've lost some print subscribers that just didn't feel comfortable making the switch," Patterson said. "But we've also had several who had cancelled due to the changes come back, realizing they missed the content we have that is not available anywhere else."
Benefits of an e-Edition
Readers tell Patterson they don't need print anymore because they recognize the benefits: ease of use, ease of reading, and bonus content only available in the e-Edition.
According to Patterson, one of his favorite BLOX Live e-Editions features is the ability to switch view styles. "We like the choice for readers to consume the paper in 'page view' like they would be reading at home, or the choice to read in 'text' view and take advantage of updates, photo galleries, and more video," Patterson said.
Because page counts are not an issue with a digital edition, the Denton Record-Chronicle can add as much as they want. Digital access now includes interactive puzzles and games, digital circulars, plus charts, graphs and additional multimedia coverage.
Consolidating the number of print days also lowers the associated costs of paper, ink, and supplies, as well as equipment and delivery costs. "The e-edition and our efforts to push digital obviously reduce our printing and distribution costs substantially," said Patterson.
Readers aren't the only ones benefiting from the changes.
"Our advertising customers are starting to realize more and more how these changes are helping them too," Patterson said. "We're able to provide better documentation on the traffic to our website and the registrations of current print subscribers who access our digital content. Plus, the number of new digital subscriptions continues to rise, again a positive we can provide our advertising customers."
The advantages of BLOX Live e-Editions are numerous. "It's cleaner, easier to read, can zoom in and out on a story, and photos are brighter. We can have later deadlines, add more content and update stories. Readers can wake up and pick up a tablet or phone and start reading. There's no missed delivery or wet papers," Patterson said. "Basically very few limitations to what we can do."