Track & Field’s strategy for migrating print readers to a digital format

A Universal Truth

Your readers are, in many ways, the most important part of your publication.

They’re the source of your revenue and the driving force of your content. And while you are the common thread they share among them, they come to you for different reasons from different backgrounds at different stages of their lives.

But they do have one thing in common. They are all people.

And what is the one thing that people will always, always respond to?

Other people.

A Human Response

This is a strategy that goes beyond heart-warming Hallmark commercials – that’s a tear-jerking moment, to be sure, but doesn’t always spur the action you want.

The real winner is when you take a moment to remind your readers that behind your publication are human people, just like them, who understand their needs and share their difficulties.

This is a lesson that Track & Field News has taken to heart.

A Difficult Situation

Track & Field News has been the pre-eminent source of, well, track and field news for 70 years. They report on events from the international level down to collegiate meets, with features on the historical giants of the sport and the up and coming stars.

And just this past year, they decided to go from print to all-digital.

It has been, predictably, a bumpy transition, but they’ve reached out to their audience in a number of ways.

And one of their most successful strategies was the perfect example of the human approach.

A Sincere Note

An email was sent to Track & Field News subscribers who hadn’t activated their new digital accounts.

It was from Ed Fox, the 85-year-old Publisher Emeritus of the News – or, as he puts it, the “guy who still hangs around and will do whatever they ask him to, like answer the phone and write letters like this”.

He sincerely expressed his understanding of why the transition was difficult – “I’m no computer wizard (just the opposite), and I’ve never liked reading stories online” – but told them he gave it a shot anyway. (After all, he said, “What’s the alternative? No Track & Field News, no track news, no eTrack?”)

Then he described in his own words the things that he liked about the new all-digital experience: how easy it was to digest in article-by-article bits, the size of the print, the access to the archives, the lack of physical clutter, and the immediacy of the news itself (“So, if the Zurich Weltklasse happened last night, I’ll be reading a full report of it the next morning as part of my T&FN subscription. (Try to find even a mention in your local newspaper.) And no more waiting 4-5 weeks for the magazine to arrive”).

And finally, he ended with easy-to-follow instructions for logging in and a heartfelt but simple plea – “I’m just asking you to take the plunge, like I did. Give it a shot.”

The tone was personal and sincere, the content was compelling and informative, and the whole thing was a quick and helpful read.

And it worked.

Double the Results

The email itself outperformed Track & Field News’ averages. They got a stunning 41% opens and 6.1% clicks on the first send with a solid resend at 20% and 2.6%.  (Their average first send numbers range between 20 and 30% opens, with a clickthrough at 2%.)

They also got a number of positive human responses – questions about how to use the new digital issue, personal greetings to Ed, and statements of appreciation for the publication’s long history of quality reporting.

And, perhaps, most importantly, they got the response they were aiming for – subscribers logging in to the digital edition for the first time.

It’s an ongoing effort, of course, and the email wasn’t their only strategy. Still, they estimate that the email generated more than 150 new log-ins, from about 2500 recipients.

I’ll save you the math: that’s about 6% of the recipients – the same percentage of recipients who clicked through on the first send.

In other words, if they read the email, they responded to it.

And that’s a pretty great result.

Want to know more about making your digital publication a success? Let’s talk.

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