Pioneering Innovation

It is a question every media company has had to ask themselves: how do we innovate?

At a recent strategic planning session, Pioneer News Group tackled the topic of innovation and where to invest in the future, with the plan to solidify the future of the company.

Pioneer News Group COO Eric Johnston said they were looking for new audiences, revenue and business streams.

A relatively simplistic idea came out of the meeting: provide their readers with tablets.

It seemed like a great idea in the ever-evolving digital landscape. However, the cost was an issue.

“We couldn’t spend seven figures on a project we didn’t know the potential of,” he said. They looked at Android, Amazon and Apple products, but had no inside connection that would be any better than buying them in store.

A team from Microsoft pointed them in the direction of a provider they could source tablets for under $100 apiece. The white labeled tablets were exactly what Pioneer needed to make this project feasible.

“Now that we had a device, we had to make them usable,” Johnston said. “We can’t just give it to them and say ‘find our website.’”

They began to look for app developers that could work in these devices to create a native experience. They wanted a Windows-enabled app. Microsoft again stepped in and provided the funding for the development, creating an intuitive and easy to use app. The tablets run Windows 10.

The tablets went on sale to subscribers in October, included in the price of subscription instead of buying the device. Pioneer is now in the third iteration of sales.

The subscriber model is simple. If a subscriber wants this plan, for the Sunday edition and tablet, it’s $15 a month with a $20 activation fee. The daily product is $20. The marketing team was cautious about not eroding the legacy print audience and focused sales on former subscribers and people outside of traditional delivery areas.

They have a goal to have 10 percent of Sunday readers on the device in the next couple of years.

So what does a tablet subscriber look like? Exactly like a traditional newspaper reader. They’re around 50 years of age and on the lower end of the tech spectrum.

“If somebody wanted a tablet, they would have bought one by now,” Johnston says. “These are people who said ‘I’d like to, but it’s $400 and I don’t know what I’d do with it.’”

He believes tablets could be the future of newspapers. If everyone adopts the technology, he doesn’t have to worry about snow or carriers getting sick.

“What we’re trying to do is be a catalyst for our audience. We have to be ready for the next major shift,” he says. “How can we be a catalyst for the future instead of just trying to keep up.”


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