The business platform for digital media

Three Thoughts on Publishing Frequency

Mar 15, 2016

This is another article from Piano’s Lead Data Scientist Roman Gavuliak written last year and re-posted here for the edification of our faithful readers. To read all of Roman’s articles please click here.

Recently Colin Morrisson, a media and marketing consultant, published an article on his blog, Flashes & Flames, that got us thinking. Among other things he talks about is the fact that the Times of London is considering publishing articles on an edition schedule rather than “as it happens.” This is not terribly unusual, he points out that network TV faced the same conundrum when it first went on the air, inventing the morning, noon and evening news programs. In fact, many news sites still publish their articles in batches in morning & noon or morning & evening cycles. But there is another approach that newspapers and especially magazines are considering. We have already entertained requests from publishers to help them sell content in issues rather than time- or meter-based. This looks like publishers are thinking about print rather than about the digital audience they now serve. While we can not provide a definitive answer to which approach is better, here are a few thoughts on what we’ve seen in the data so far related to this topic.

1. Below is a very popular graph of pageviews by device by hour for a workday (in this case mobile and tablet are in one category). The values are percentages of all pageviews for this device (i. e. mobile / tablet pageviews add up to 100 % and so do desktop pageviews).

Generally the graph shows that people start their day looking at the web on their mobiles then, switch to a desktop when arriving to work and are joined by non-mobile readers who start their day at the office by reading the news. A second peak occurs at noon when the reader has a few moments to check sports scores or see what’s happening in the world. Pageviews decline over the course of the afternoon until the commute home starts when mobile / tablet take over and surfing continues into the evening in living rooms and bedrooms. Weekends tend to contain more mobile / tablet traffic.

With these consumption patterns in mind, the question is – at what points during the day would a newspaper release batches of information? An attempt could be made to strengthen readership peaks by timing releases for when increases begin, or you could attempt to draw people in between the peaks so that they feel the need to read more often throughout the day. The real question is, since people, especially during workday peaks have a limited amount of attention – minutes to devote to looking at the news – how much more attention could be attracted during or around those peaks?

2. In a recent Piano analysis on visits and the difference of visit lengths when measured by pageviews, timestamps and time spent indicators (functionality that pings the user at predefined intervals to see whether s/he is still active on the page) we concluded that some people (who could very well be people without internet access at work) tend to read once a day in a regular 24-hour interval. Not all news sites are the same and this should be taken into account when thinking about how to distribute batches of content. Newspapers can plug user behavior into recommendation engines and personalized homepages to deliver more targeted content to user who visits but once per day, perhaps offering a digest of the biggest events in the past 24 hours while showing a more active user just the latest updates. Obviously this is an area Piano will research further in the future.

3. When analyzing popular keywords for a client recently, some of the top 100 keywords searched for on their sites in November and December 2014 were “national elections 2013” and “Brazil 2014,” even though both events had happened more than six months earlier. The reason for national elections resurfacing were the upcoming regional elections and it seems people wanted to check on the promises politicians had made the year before. This showed us that users will tap into a site’s entire available article cache at any time rather than  discriminating based on publishing time. The challenge here then is repackaging content correctly, a measure mentioned coincidentally in a New York Times report on audience development released in 2014.

The reason we are delving into these topics is because we strongly believe audience development is a vital component of paid content.

2016 Update: We are delighted to offer Piano’s VX software that helps publishers engage users who do not pay. The publisher controls access rights by  hour, day, week or month, so the same content has different value to different audience segments. This is Piano’s Value Exchange and an integral part is Experience Management, letting the publisher create an Experience for users based on who they are and their behavior.