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Indian Express: A Case Study on Building Instant Articles

Natasha von Kaeppler
May 19, 2016

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Introduction

The Indian Express is a daily newspaper known for its investigative stories and hard opinions, reaching 40 million readers globally online. Its mission is to bring intelligent stories that matter in India to a wider, younger audience. The Express has already tapped into new audiences through social media—for example, Bangalore and Chennai are among its largest user bases, though the publisher doesn’t have an edition in either city. To continue growth, the paper needed a solution that would overcome the hurdle of inconsistent network conditions in India. When Facebook reached out about Instant Articles, the Express didn’t think twice about joining the program.

Goals

  1. Reach new audiences on slow connections – Tap into a completely new audience previously inaccessible because of connectivity issues.
  2. Integrate more immersive rich media into stories – Offer a richer reading experience for people on 2G and 3G connections.
  3. Grow overall audience – Grow audience without cannibalising its existing Facebook audience.

Strategy

The Indian Express wanted to use Instant Articles to help expand its reach to new audiences on slow network connections. Most people on smartphones in India access the internet through a 2G or 3G connection and readers often abandon articles before they have a chance to fully load. A significant segment of the newspaper’s potential audience could not easily access its stories.

The Instant Article speed advantage in India is particularly stark: On a 2G network in India, a smart phone from 2011–12 loads Instant Articles more than 7 times faster than the mobile web equivalents on the latest iPhone in the U.S. The Indian Express made almost every story in its catalog available as an Instant Article and has seen a corresponding increase in overall reach, with readers clearly favoring the new reading experience. The response echoed Facebook’s findings that, on average, people in India click on 20% more Instant Articles than mobile web articles.

In addition, the faster loading format meant the newspaper did not have to worry about pages being too big for people in low bandwidth situations. Data showed that while a lot of readers were clicking on Express links, they dropped off because the webpages took too long to open. The paper could now begin packaging stories with richer, more interactive content to increase value for its readers on Facebook.

The Indian Express has focused first on embedding more video and higher resolution photos, while it continues to explore more innovative formats. In particular, it has found that images are important to the overall experience and show up better in Instant Articles, resulting in more engagement and time spent.

On the business side, early growth in audience reach on Facebook is The Indian Express’s biggest motivation for continuing the program. The paper sends 100% of its stories to Instant Articles, and the increasing engagement and reads—over 3 million users have experienced Instant Articles from IndianExpress.com so far—present an immense opportunity. Engagement is also up, and it is now turning attention towards increasing pages per visit and reducing bounce rate.

The Indian Express is currently using Facebook Audience Network to monetize its Instant Articles, with plans to explore direct sold ads soon to maximize yield. Going forward, its editorial, social, and sales teams are collaborating on the packaging of all stories with the Instant Articles experience in mind.

Results

  • 3+ million unique visitors on Instant Articles since November 2015
  • 10X growth in page views since November 2015

“We’re excited with the traction Instant Articles has with our large and fast growing fan base. And I do think Facebook is trying to create a fair and transparent environment for publishers to bridge the trust deficit between Silicon Valley and publishers globally.” – Anant Goenka, Wholetime Director & Head - New Media, The Express Group


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