Journalism publishing is evolving so rapidly that even massive news organizations with large resources are constantly adapting to user habits, creating more tools for more platforms and trying to meet readers and viewers wherever they are. While they have made strides and some have found success, the business model remains precarious and in flux.
If big companies with money to spend haven’t figured things out, where does that leave the multitude of journalism startups, small publishers and blogs? How can they possibly adapt fast enough?
In November 2014, our platform PressRoom was ready for a real-world test drive. PressRoom allows publishers to upload any kind of content to WordPress and push it onto a variety of channels, custom-fitted for a variety of devices. A single story composed in the WordPress backend, for example, could be packaged and shipped instantly for web, iOS app, ebook and even print. At the same time PressRoom was ready, Latterly magazine, a digital-only publisher of international storytelling, was crowdfunding its launch on Kickstarter.
This is the story of what happened when a small group of Italian techies and an American journalist got together and made a magazine.
PressRoom for Latterly
We reached out to Ben Wolford, the founder and editor of Latterly, and started talking about improving the magazine’s website and switching from Squarespace (where it was initially developed) to a self-hosted WordPress. From a visual standpoint, we falled in love with Letterly’s minimal design and decided to extend and refine it to create a strong, clear and cohesive design among the web and the native client. With Ben we revisited the components to engender a sense of value in each monthly issue.
For a website like Vox or BuzzFeed, constant evolution is important, but it also gives an impression to users that the content is throwaway — it’ll be gone in a moment, it’s free to enjoy. With Latterly, a subscriber-based website, it was important to suggest permanence and value — these stories have shelf life, each issue was crafted with care, this is worth something.
Today Latterly can publish its monthly issues on the website and the iOS app at once, engaging audiences with different reading habits and enabling subscription sales on the well-monetized iTunes marketplace. PressRoom will also allow Latterly to publish future additional editorial projects.
Apple’s Newsstand has a bad reputation among publishers, and Ben brought that up when we talked with him. We agreed many of the worries about discoverability, profit sharing with Apple (they take a steep 30 percent cut) and inefficient promotion by the marketplace are all good points. Still, a companion native iOS app brings benefits in terms of distribution, monetization, performance, efficency and UI consistency. Latterly for iOS creates another point of sale with the ability to sell even single issues, the readering experience is fast, clean and free of distraction, enabling offline reading for air and underground travel.
Latterly is a bootstrap operation with an ambitious foreign agenda: four longform stories — true narratives — and photo essays about flyover locales and overlooked subplots in international news. The money it earns from subscriptions ($3 per month) and donations is virtually all reinvested to pay writers and photographers. We believe that’s a worthy venture to support. Our publishing platform is inexpensive enough and simple enough to use that Latterly can save its money for its mission.
Successful user experience for a paid magazine hangs largely on the purchase process and the account management. If it’s too complex, slow or unintuitive, potential subscribers may click away or give up. In response, we’ve designed a one-page purchase module. We wanted the experience to be pure, fast and fail-safe for the subscription and donation purchase process.
For Latterly, which had been outsourcing its subscription management system to a third party, the first task was to switch to our custom-built system, called Sullivan. Now Latterly can run everything from the same web server and own its consumer data rather than leaving it in the hands of a third party. Additionally, we enable a branded paywall curtain, metered paywall, donations, as well as discount coupons, trial subscriptions and many other useful marketing tools that weren’t available in the previous system. Because of our first-click-free feature users arriving from social networks shares and Google organic searches can access stories without interruption.
We choosed Stripe has the only payment processor since it offers a secure and fast payment system that users love. It took part in the broader startegy to converting users to subscribers, and keeping them in.
Because our platform delivers the same content to different channels, we needed to develop strategies to ensure fast load speeds and quality design on each.
The website has been built with performance and readability in mind:
Even web fonts are treated as such with the additional care to style the fallback fonts to look as closer as it is possibile to their enhanced counterpart. Typography has been crafted to ensure a confortable, clear reading experience on every device.
The iOS version of Latterly share the same presentation style and sub-compact idea with the web site. The App is light, and downloads the packages for offline reading in a matter of seconds. Issues are all created with HTML5 and stored in the device’s memory, giving readers the opportunity to enjoy a distraction free reading experience even when travelling.
On top of that, iOS only readers can subscribe using iTunes or purchase single issues. Push notifications are sent through Parse to keep users engaged and notify them of new releases, or send them as an automatic background download.
Social network and email sharing perfectly integrates with the web site, letting iOS users to share content that points other users to the web version of the same article.