In today's fast-paced digital era, it's either adapt or become ancient history. In 2022, FatChilli for Publishers embarked on a bold digital transformation odyssey with the renowned Reportér Magazine. This story is more than just about technology meeting text; it's a reinvention of reader experience and website functionalities. Dive into the story of digital change, where we share insights, challenges, triumphs, but also occasional “oops” moments of our remarkable collaboration.
- Why Reportér Magazine needed the digital transformation.
- What solutions, strategies and metrics we implemented to enhance Reportér's digital footprint
- How metered paywall was introduced for deeper connection with readers
- How we merged two separate systems for managing print and digital subscriptions into one with REMP
- How we transformed the website with PWA, a game changer in cost efficiency and reader engagement
- How we faced various challenges and learned from them
- What funding sources can fuel such an ambitious project
Before you dive into the long read below, get a glimpse of the outcomes at reportermagazin.cz
About Reportér Magazine
Since its inception in 2014, Reportér has stood out as a significant Czech monthly, led by Chief Editor Robert Čásenský and home to acclaimed investigative journalists like Jaroslav Kmenta. Formed from a team parting ways from Mladá fronta DNES after its acquisition by an oligarch Andrej Babiš, Reportér offers both print and online editions, rich with original reports from the Czech Republic and abroad. Reportér's operations are funded through magazine sales, advertising, and the Reportér Foundation, dedicated to supporting independent journalism.
The digital wake-up call and embracing change
With the print run falling and the price of print production rising, Reportér's transition wasn't just about adapting to digital; it was about keeping its unique and distinctive journalistic essence alive while growing its digital subscriber base to 15 000 subscribers. This journey, bolstered by the Thomson Foundation's media development program and the strategic guidance of business mentor Tatiana Repkova, was complemented by FatChilli's tech expertise in the news publishing sector.
The first in-person meeting of Reportér & FatChilli in Prague, January 2022. From left to right: Lucie and Robert from Reportér; Andrej, Martina and Matej from FatChilli.
Confronted with limitations in their existing tech setup and the high costs of tech vendor services, Reportér realized the urgent need for an effective online reader engagement strategy. Adapting to reader behaviours, segmenting and automating processes, and taking control of reader data emerged as critical survival strategies, not simple options. Acknowledging and embracing this need for transformation was the first significant step on this journey.
Unpacking Reportér's transformation toolbox
True transformation is a marathon, not a sprint. Our mission was to select the right tools to provide an unparalleled reader experience. This called for an end-to-end approach, covering everything from requirement definitions to strategy creation and the implementation of all necessary tools.
To effectively navigate this journey, we selected specific leading metrics, guided by the AARRR Pirate Metrics Framework, widely acclaimed in start-up and SaaS companies. This framework allowed us to focus on identifying areas with potential to improve our conversion funnel. Here's a snapshot of our key metrics in each stage:
- Acquisition: New readers with above-average page views per session.
- Activation: Return of non-subscribers; new email addresses and new push notification subscribers collected
- Revenue: Number of readers spending more than 0 CZK
- Retention: Number of readers with recurring and yearly subscriptions
- Referral: Number of subscribers sharing our content
Let's dive deeper into what tech stack was used to support our goals.
REMP integration: Rewriting the rules of subscription management
A cornerstone of this transformation was integration of REMP; a robust open-source Reader Engagement & Monetization Platform, an ally in connecting with our subscribers and potential subscribers. With REMP's features like user segmentation, email marketing and automation and on-site campaigns we aimed to grow our subscriber revenue.
The real game changer was the unification of print and digital subscriptions - two previously disparate systems - into one cohesive platform. Customized to accommodate Reportér's unique operational dynamics, including their irregular print schedules, this merger marked a significant leap not only for Reportér but also set a new benchmark in the print publishing sector.
We rolled out several key features designed to deepen engagement and enhance the overall experience for Reportér’s readers, among them e.g.:
- Social network logins (Apple ID, Google, Facebook, Twitter) welcoming a broader audience with ease.
- A pivotal strategy was the implementation of a Metered Paywall, offering three free articles per month for registered users. This approach serves mainly three purposes. Firstly, it attracts casual visitors and gives them a reason to explore Reportér Magazine. Secondly, visitor registration provides non-subscribers with a glimpse of Reportér's content, nudging them towards a full subscription. Thirdly, collecting valuable email contacts opens the door for ongoing engagement with readers, even after they leave the website.
- The 'Save for Later' feature for subscribers adding personalization.
- The 'Unlock for a Friend' feature fostering a sense of community among Reporter's readers.
These features, although not native to REMP, were crucial in establishing a more profound connection with Reportér's readers, enhancing their overall experience and engagement with the platform.
Conversion Funnel: Tailoring purchases to perfection
We really focused on making it easier to buy a subscription. Recognizing that a complicated buying experience can lead to lost revenue opportunities, we streamlined the purchase process to be as intuitive and seamless as possible.
A major change was the decision to remove the necessity for reader registration to buy something. This means less struggle for our readers. Now, everything's on one screen, and there's no need to go through unnecessary steps or set up an account unless you want to.
We also added options for readers to identify themselves as specific buying personas, like buying for personal use, for a business, or as a gift. This categorization, a novelty for Reportér, tailors the experience to the person behind the screen.
With the aim to increase the average order value, we've made it possible for subscribers to personalize their subscriptions. They can begin with a standard digital package and then conveniently add extras, such as the ability to unlock articles for friends, enjoy an ad-free browsing experience, or even select a complimentary book of their choice.
Specific to the Czech market, subscribers can now delay the start of their print subscriptions by their selected time, while accessing digital content immediately. This has been challenging to set up, but proved important in the overall value and appeal of Reportér's subscription offerings.
New Website: Crafting a reader-centric digital space
This part of the process was deeply rooted in aligning the digital interface with the magazine's character while ensuring it was captivating, intuitive, and mostly, reader-centric. We began with in-depth reader research, involving hours of conversations with readers, online polls and website data analysis to spot what truly resonates with our audience. This led to enlightening insights, such as:
- Our articles are a go-to read while riding the train to work or unwinding at a weekend wi-fi free cottage house
- Readers value genuine headlines that avoid clickbait tactics.
- There's a strong reader affinity to specific authors, whose work is trusted and admired.
- Audience prefers rich, visually appealing stories that offer more than just the surface details.
- Referrals seem to be a significant source of many conversions.
Equipped with these insights, we moved into the ideation phase, brainstorming innovative ways to translate our newfound knowledge into tangible website features. Here our proprietary solution, RX (Reader eXperience), came into play. Working closely with Reporér, we explored various concepts and features through RX that could meet, if not exceed the expectations of Reportér's audience.
The list of the potential features defined in the ideation phase was translated into detailed technical and functional specifications. This ensured that the development team had a clear roadmap to bring these ideas to life within the RX's technical framework. As a result, we prioritized several engaging features for the website, including:
- Photo Galleries: We leveraged Reportér's vast collection of high-quality images, which often didn't find place in print or digital formats. We introduced QR codes in the print editions creating a seamless bridge between print and digital realms. This feature not only utilized existing assets but also offered another reason for casual readers to visit the website.
- Short Reads: Catering to our commuting readers, we introduced short articles, a quick 10-minute read, available to both subscribers and non-subscribers, providing a snapshot of our quality content. This adds up to the strategy of attracting casual visitors, adding to the appeal of the three-free-articles offer, and contributes to our first leading metric, “new readers with above-average page views per session.”
- Author Spotlight: We focused on the personal touch and gave prominence to authors on the homepage, allowing readers to connect with their favorite journalists.
- Audio Content: In response to the growing popularity of Reportér's audio content, we developed & integrated an audio player that provides a continuous listening experience even while browsing other pages.
Progressive Web App (PWA) Methodology
By embracing the cutting-edge web capabilities, we transformed the website into a PWA, offering an app-like experience. This shift didn't just modernize the reader experience, it proved to be a game changer in cost efficiency and reader engagement. Here's how:
- Cost-efficiency: We eliminated the need for a native app, leading to significant savings in app maintenance and development.
- Offline reading capability: Our research revealed a unique reader habit – the love for accessing Reportér in no-internet zones or by commuting. The previous app had this feature and it was important to maintain it. Thanks to PWA we seamlessly ensured the continuity of this valued reader requirement.
- Personalization at its best: We introduced customizable settings, making the website not just a platform, but a personal space for each reader.
Watch the video below and learn more about the concepts behind the Reportér's new website.
Aesthetics reflecting print magazine
In our design approach we aimed to reflect the magazine’s print aesthetic, providing readers with a familiar visual experience with a clean layout and easy sidebar navigation.The visual transformation was led by Roman Pittner, a talented contracted designer. His quick grasp of Reportér's essence and vision meant minimal time spent on revisions, making the whole process very efficient, according to the chief-editor Robert. The use of Figma as a primary design and communication tool made it really effective. The resulting website presents a visually cohesive and engaging reader experience.
Evolving through data-driven decisions
We didn't just rely on reader research; we delved into the nuances of behavioral analytics on the website. The transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) marked a critical pivot, offering a more nuanced understanding of our readers' interactions. We created a custom tracking plan to make sure we track our initially designed leading metrics. We integrated a Consent Management Platform respecting and protecting our readers' privacy. To make this collected rich data accessible and actionable, they can be presented on a dashboard like the one below, specifically designed to meet Reporter Magazine's unique needs.
Redefining the Content strategy
The transformation marked a significant shift also in Reportér's content strategy for the web. The most notable changes involve:
- Creation of a new role, a dedicated digital content manager, tasked with e.g.:
- refreshing the homepage, ensuring it remains dynamic and engaging,
- reworking magazine articles for the web,
- crafting unique headlines and enhancing the articles with additional relevant information.
- Unified article formats. Reportér has shifted from producing separate versions of content for their web and app platforms. The new strategy involves creating a single, unified format for all articles. This change not only brings consistency across platforms but also simplifies the content management process.
- We introduced a new feature in their content management system, WordPress, that lets journalists easily manage and post their articles directly. This replaces the old way of using emails and printed documents for article submissions.
Behind the scenes
From brainstorming sessions to training days, our journey was dotted with hundreds of hours of talks, learning curves, and endless cups of coffee. This voyage brought together a diverse team of creative minds, technical experts, and strategic thinkers.
Milestones and High-five moments
- A First for FatChilli: This project marked a milestone for FatChilli, being the first of its kind that engaged all our internal teams concurrently. It showcased our ability to manage and deliver large-scale, integrated projects, demonstrating the versatility and depth of our expertise.
- Partnerships & Collabs: We embraced the power of collaboration, partnering with two external companies - Galton, a branding agency with a strong WordPress team; and Brackets, a team of UX designers and software developers. These partnerships were far from a competition; they were a strategic complement to our expertise. Their critical role in front-end and back-end development was crucial for the project's success, illustrating how combined expertise can lead to extraordinary outcomes.
- New tools: The complexity of the project led us to adopt Jira as our project management tool across other projects too, marking a significant internal milestone in our workflow optimization.
- Recognition by Google: Our innovative RX (Reader Experience) approach, aiming to create sustainable newsrooms with an app-like experience for mobile readers thanks to PWA, earned us a reward from Google for being an outstanding example in transformation.
- Spotlight at Prague Media Point: The insights and outcomes from this transformation were shared by Martina from FatChilli and Robert from Reportér on a larger platform at the Prague Media Point in December, 2023. This presentation was not only a testament to the project's success but also aligned with the conference's focus on enhancing the sustainability of media in Europe.
Reflections through the eyes of the Chief Editor, Robert Čásenský:
"The preparation for the website was sophisticated; throughout the process, we encountered a professional approach. Whenever an issue arose, we didn't waste time debating whether it was a problem or not, but instead focused on how to resolve it. We collaborated with teams who were genuinely committed to ensuring a successful outcome."
The “oops!” moments and what they taught us
- Digital transformation is a path laden with complexities, often more intricate than initially perceived. Thorough preparation is key, but so is adaptability to unexpected challenges.
- It's easy to fall into the trap of overly optimistic timeframes and budgets. This journey reminded us that realistic timelines and buffer periods aren't just helpful, they're necessary.
- We can't overstate the importance of comprehensive initial analyses and precise specifications before jumping into implementation. Measure twice, cut once. Rushing into execution without proper analysis can lead to prolonged timelines and escalated costs. Investing in a thorough initial analysis, even if it seems costly at first, can save significant resources in the long run. Getting these right from the get-go saves time, resources, and a lot of headaches.
- We faced challenges in data structure complexities and initially underestimated the scope of data migration. However, these experiences have fine-tuned our processes at FatChilli, turning our past oversights into future strengths.
Robert from Reportér reflects on these experiences with resilience: "Don't shy away from the challenge. It's a complex process, but don't be afraid. Embrace the journey, it will be worth it. No pain, no gain."
In navigating the financial aspects of such an ambitious project, Reportér leveraged a blend of funding sources to ensure the successful execution of their digital transformation. These sources included:
- Thomson Foundation grant crucial for kickstarting the transformation, underpinning many of the initial stages of development.
- Internally generated resources, involving strategic financial planning, where funds initially earmarked for other expenses were redirected towards the transformation.
- A group of individual investors passionate about Reportér's mission and vision contributed additional financing.
As we wrapped up our conversation, Jaromir, the Economic Director at Reportér, reflected on the project's return on investment by seeing the potential for growth: “Our readers have shown they're willing to invest in our content, and there's no reason why this won't work for us. We're optimistic about our future in the digital space.”
Turning the page, but the story continues
And that's a wrap – for now. The current chapter of Reporter Magazine's digital transformation journey with FatChilli is completed, but the story is far from over. We are excited to continue our collaboration, focusing on optimizing every aspect of this digital adventure.
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Interested in the business impact and detailed results? Respecting Reportér's wish, we're happy to delve into these one-on-one. Just drop us an email at [email protected] for a discussion.