Survey of Newspack customers finds broad approval

A survey of the initial group of pilot partners who helped lead the development of Newspack has found that pilot participants and Newspack team members alike “were very happy with the process.”

The survey, conducted by analysts from News Revenue Hub, was submitted on Friday to the Knight Foundation, which provided funding for NRH to help guide development of the platform in the first year.

At the outset of the project, NRH surveyed news organizations to understand better what they were seeking in a CMS and from WordPress in particular, which is used by about 70 percent of all small- and medium-sized news operations.

That report, along with input from the 12 pilot partners, informed the development of the initial Newspack build, which was deployed when the Chilean news website El Soberano, relaunched on the platform in October.

NRH followed up by interviewing nine participants from 5 newsrooms in the pilot cohort, and speaking with five Automattic team members who worked on the project.

Among the findings:

  • Pilot partners felt like active participants in feature development. And Newspack developers found great value in working directly with their users.
  • Out of the box, Newspack solved issues of visual flexibility and allowed newsrooms greater potential for creative expression.
  • Newspack has begun to solve the problem of presenting promotional content, such as email marketing campaigns. In users’ eyes, the latter features were not at the same level of maturity as the visual tools, but developers were working with newsrooms to ensure that engagement and revenue-generating features are at least on par with existing plugins.
  • The role of Newspack in reducing or replacing the need for website-related technical resources was unclear and depended greatly on an individual newsroom’s technical knowledge and resources.
  • The biggest potential area of misalignment was seen as the cost of Newspack relative to the perceived value. Newsrooms see customization and face-to-face interaction with developers as part of the value provided by Newspack and felt this might be difficult to scale for the Automattic team.
  • Potential improvements going forward should focus on increasing transparency and providing deeper, more standardized education and documentation to broad groups of users.

The Newspack team has moved to address a number of the issues identified in the report, suggesting that there was good communication with partners even before the report was published.

Newspack has named three technical account managers who work with partner sites to get them relaunched and to ensure that they have a regular point of technical contact on the team once they’re up and running.

It has significantly expanded the promotional features in Newspack and redeployed them under the more expansive title of “Campaigns” -— signaling their value in everything from membership and donation solicitation, to newsletter signup and eventually managing the customer journey through the funnel.

Newspack has launched a dedicated Slack workspace where the team can not only communicate in real time with partners, but partners -— 132 so far and counting — can confer with one another on any topic related to the platform and publishing in local news markets.

It has developed an email authoring tool that significantly streamlines email publishing for Newspack customers.

The team has published a series of support documents for non-technologists that provide much clearer instruction in the management and use of the platform.

And it is continuing to prioritize revenue-related features in its development pipeline.

The full NRH report can be read here: