Editor’s Note from Ludovic Blecher, Head of Google News Initiative Innovation: The GNI Innovation Challenge program is designed to stimulate forward-thinking ideas for the news industry. The story below by Pascal Brouet, EBRA COO and Local Pulse Project Director, is part of an innovator series sharing inspiring stories and lessons from funded projects.
When I took on the job of leading digital transformation for the French local daily newspaper group EBRA in 2018, print circulation was falling. The challenge for our future was revealed in our data — while circulation in the countryside was holding up, there was a sizable opportunity for expansion in metropolitan areas. And so our three-pronged internal project (at that time code-named “Local Pulse”) was conceived.
We applied for the Google News Initiative’s DNI Fund, spelling out how we wanted to: (1) win back urban readers with a new editorial offering for each of the main cities covered by EBRA brands, (2) deliver that news through a mobile platform more attractive to urbanites and (3) ensure its sustainability with a subscriber-led business model.
The starting point for the work was a survey of more than 1,200 urban readers to get a better understanding of their consumption of local information, their main topics of interest, and most pressing concerns in their day-to-day life. We used their input and feedback to define an editorial mix and value proposition with some key principles:
Our editorial purpose required us to define a new revenue model mainly based on subscription and native advertising, breaking with the old advertising models which could only deliver results with mass audiences. Marketing this model — without any previous experience of this type of model — continues to be one of the biggest challenges for commercial teams and was exacerbated further by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also posed a challenge for our core editorial teams. During the beta phase in spring 2021, we did not completely succeed in delivering our editorial promise and value proposition. Over two weeks, we exposed our daily editorial mix to more than 200 beta-testers and as a result of the insights, refocused the editorial team on original local news rather than lifestyle content.
In the Fall of 2021, after two years of work with the support of the DNI Fund, Local Pulse gave birth to ASAPP — a mobile app designed for younger, urban readers — and launched in Lyon and Strasbourg. The first results of ASAPP seem positive: 2,000 registered users and high engagement with an increased number of page views per visit (about 10 page views per visit),and high engagement rates with social communities (especially on Instagram, with 150,000 page views in the first month). Over the next three months, we will continue to improve user experience and specific benefits for subscribers before launching ASAPP in more metropolitan areas.