By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor
More Canadians are reading the Globe and Mail than any other brand according to a recently released study.
The study by Vividata, which is the amalgamated organization of NADbank and Print Measurement Bureau (PMB), found the Globe has about 6.6 million readers across its print and digital platforms. Comparatively, Postmedia has a print readership of 7.1 million across all of its brands. The Vividata study compared 80 consumer magazines and 78 daily newspapers.
J-Source spoke to Globe publisher and CEO Phillip Crawley about how the brand has continued to attract readership in an evolving marketplace. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
J-Source: What makes the Globe the primary destination for people who want Canadian news and Canadian business news?
Phillip Crawley: We invest in content. That’s really the simple story here. We've got ownership from the Thomson family, who have got a long standing record of being interested in serious journalism and quality journalism. For three generations they've been media owners—they've owned major titles in the UK in the days when they had the Times and the Sunday Times and still feel very invested in the idea of creating quality content, however it’s consumed. In that sense we're fortunate to have that kind of sense of mission—making a difference in Canadian society, standing up to the right things.
Successes like the thalidomide story that we ran, for which we won the Michener this year, those things matter to them. That’s why we keep investing in foreign bureau coverage when other people are cutting back.
We believe that’s very much part of what Globe readers want. They want perspective on what’s going on around the world from Canadian people, from Canadian eyes taking in the stories that matter around the world.
J-Source: Is there a particular platform that drives your readership today?
PC: Obviously, lots of our readers read across multiple platforms. We can track their behaviour pretty much throughout 24 hours of the day. We see when they are reading print, and we see when they are looking at their desktop; we see when they are looking at an iPad or when they are catching up on the run.
All of that is pretty clear to us as a pattern. All we need is the numbers to illustrate how that is shifting. The mobile consumption for everyone is growing very rapidly particularly on the smaller screens. Not so much the larger screens, like desktop or even iPad.
Political news over the last month of the election has been very strong for us and it drives subscription conversion.
On a big piece like Ian Brown's 10,000-word piece on Justin Trudeau, which we ran in Focus a couple of weeks ago, that was behind the paywall. You can see very clearly that it makes people say, “I've got to be able to read that—I'm paying for the subscription, it’s worth it.”
That’s the single biggest article we've ever had for subscription conversions.
J-Source: How many people bought subscriptions because of that story?
PC: It’s over 100 people who just signed up for subscriptions specifically because of that article. A good article would drive a couple of dozen subscriptions on a day, but on that one, because there was such intense interest in the subject, it really spiked.
From a business point of view, it’s good for business, but it’s also a good indicator of just how keen people are to access specific Globe content.
During last week’s election, our desktop audience doubled over that short period. Mobile audience tripled compared to its normal reach.
J-Source: Are you developing your mobile products simultaneously, so that people get the same experience no matter what they are looking at?
PC: That would be the ideal but it’s simply hard to keep up with all of the changes in the different platforms. It’s constant chasing your tail because all the time some of those platforms are evolving and we've got to be evolving with them.
My priority in the coming year is to improve the mobile experience generally. I think there is where we need to update. We launched a new app in May and we've been improving that for the last six months so it’s been an ongoing improvement. Virtually every month we add a new feature or improve some new bit of the user experience because you don't launch a product and then it stops— you keep on working on it to make it better.
There’s no question that more and more people are choosing to go with mobile access rather than using their desktop. At the moment, the largest group still part of our digital audience is desktop, but it’s diminishing while mobile is growing.
J-Source: What part does the Globe’s innovation lab take part in that?
PC: We started that in June with a couple of teams. One of the teams worked specifically on making sense of poll data during the election period, so we had a team that tracked a whole lot of polls and picked up the trends out of that and fed that knowledge into the coverage.
We've got another team working on what we call a taste graph that we are already taking out to advertisers, which indicates how our readers are responding in terms of their preferences, their tastes. We measured about 1,800 different items which then give a picture of what is it that our audience likes or dislikes when they are accessing a particular piece of content or theme. That’s very valuable info from the point of view of taking that to an advertiser.
J-Source: Could you talk a little bit more about the role Report on Business is taking in driving readership?
PC: RoB is very much a core part of our brand and our franchise.
Normally, business and investment content drives 75 per cent of our subscription conversions, so if people decided they need to pay to see Globe content, three-quarters of the time it’s because of some business or investment content. It just reinforces what we've known for years—whether you are reading the paper or looking at globeandmail.com or rob.com that business is very important to our audience. It’s what now the Globe is supposed to be the best at.
The RoB magazine is the largest readership of any business magazine in Canada—1.2 million readers and that’s just print and then its got a digital readership of about 900,000.
J-Source: There have been some departures at RoB recently. How is the Globe approaching rebuilding that team?
PC: It’s a constant process. We added 32 people to the staff of RoB over the course of three or four months because we wanted to strengthen the team. We were adding new features to it. We did effectively a re-launch of RoB in early May—we added comment page on a daily basis and two on a Saturday, which didn't exist before.
We brought in people to do different jobs within RoB so inevitably there's going to be some turnover when you inject that kind of extra volume. We've always been a place that other people have come looking for talent because a lot of the best people in Canada want to work for the Globe so, of course, from time to time people will try and recruit from us and equally we will take people from other places, so that’s a never-ending cycle.