A new layout, a native podcast player, a better subscription experience, and more.
What happens behind the scenes when a critical component of a website’s interface – podcast player – is junked barely two weeks before the already stretched launch deadline?
To answer that, let’s start from the beginning.
Newslaundry was started in 2012 as an ad-free, subscription-driven independent news website. We wanted to serve the reader, not the advertiser. And our subscribers backed us and bet on our future; we didn’t need a pandemic or shrinking online ad revenue to “pivot” to subscription.
The tiny launch team created story formats that were new to India’s news industry – media critique, podcasts, satire shows. They worked with tinier resources. This meant that while we punched above our weight in journalistic work, we couldn’t invest much in technology and user experience on the website.
Yet, in spite of a not-so-smooth interface and a glitchy payment gateway, our subscribers stuck with us. Not just because they believed in us. They realised that they were helping disrupt India’s media space one subscription at a time by ushering in a reader-driven revenue model.
Newslaundry homepage over the years.
As we grew over the years, tech remained on the backburner. To the extent that, at times, it was left to coders among our amazingly talented and generous subscribers to fix bugs and keep the site running. We simply couldn’t afford to invest in upgrading our tech.
Now, we have done it. Finally.
Aside from the new layout and interface, we have made structural backend changes in recent months – from upgrading the content management system to how we host our podcasts to onboarding a new subscription management platform.
But let’s spare ourselves the boring minutiae and take a look at what’s new in the layout.
The new homepage collects at the top stories picked by our editors, giving ample space to the artwork that readers know us for.
Further down, it showcases our focus on the media, ground reports, and work that’s available to subscribers alone. All this comes in a mobile-first design with a call to action you are familiar with: you can now pay for an NL Sena project from the homepage itself.
All in all, the idea is to have a neat design that doesn’t overwhelm you with clutter.
While we have been ahead of the curve in the podcast space – Newslaundry was among the first publishers in India to do podcasts – we haven’t been able to enable you to listen smoothly to our podcasts on the website. Till now.
So far, we have relied on aggregators such as Apple Podcasts, Overcast and Spotify. Now we have a native player to listen to and download free as well as subscriber-only podcasts. It was one of the most demanded features of our subscribers.
So, check it out. Click on the mic icon at the top right to activate the player. Our favourite feature: you can access episode notes from the player itself and skip to a specific topic within an episode. It is a feature that even the biggest of podcast platforms don’t sport.
Works like magic, really.
Quite a bit of our time at Newslaundry is spent speaking with our subscribers and potential subscribers about the payment experience. It doesn’t help that Indian banks and gateways have a long way to go to ensure smooth overseas transactions and recurring payments. Insights from our subscribers have enabled us to build a cleaner, simpler interface that doesn’t confuse the payer. We have three separate payment gateways powering our payment flow now, as against one earlier.
The page also offers features that we have long handled manually, including gift subscriptions and student subscriptions. Subscribers can pay for student subscriptions directly through the website now and students can sign up for free.
NL Sena, our project for subscribers to fund original reporting directly, has long been mixed and confused with our regular subscriptions.
The new Sena page fixes this. And adds a host of features – live tracking of funds raised by the project, links to older Sena projects and automation of merchandise delivery for our Sena members.
Gifting access to a subscriber-only piece
Our subscribers are our ambassadors. They share our work with people in their circles and get them to subscribe. Indeed, so many of our subscribers were introduced to us by their friends or relatives.
Subscribers can now gift access to paywalled pieces to someone they think would like the work we put out exclusively for our subscribers.
You will find plenty of other changes, minor and major, across the website, from the newsletter call to action in our stories to our mascots Birubal and Birubala – hail Anish Daolagupu! – and a better subscription experience.
None of this would have been possible without the feedback and support of our subscribers. Most of the changes were driven by their expectations and past experiences.
This brings us back to the question we started with. Just two weeks ago, after months of working on a podcast player, we opened the website to some of our subscribers. The feedback that we got was so detailed and constructive that we decided to junk the user interface of the player entirely, and design a new one with features such as speed controls from scratch. The last two weeks have been crazy, but we are quite happy with how the player has turned out.
So, a big thank you to all the subscribers who helped us improve the website over the last few weeks. There are still many issues to be fixed, interfaces to be improved, and there’s a long list of features in the pipeline. Till then, this lays down the foundation for tech and subscriber experience infrastructure that can power a smooth news website.