Sep 3, 2019

The Washington Post adds product to its masthead

Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

The Washington Post will unveil a new masthead on Tuesday that for the first time in its 141-year-old history will include a vice president of product — Kat Downs Mulder, executives tell Axios.

What's new: As part of its product push, the company will launch a series of new, personalized newsletter products this fall, as well as a more responsive paywall, with Downs Mulder at the helm.

"In 2011, there were four engineers in The Washington Post newsroom. Today there are over 300."
— Fred Ryan the CEO and Publisher of The Post.

Background: Downs Mulder is an 11-year veteran of the Post, who started out as a news designer and worked her way up through the product and design teams. She ran the Post's graphics team for more than 5 years before moving over to run product for the company.

Details: A large part of the Post's product push will focus on personalization within apps, paywalls and email to engage current and potential subscribers, says Downs Mulder.

  • The Post will debut new personalized newsletters targeted to subscribers this September. The first products will have personalized recommendations and a reading list of stories subscribers have saved for later. It will later test different delivery frequencies to home in on the most convenient times to read. Based on feedback, The Post plans to evolve products and extend them to its site and apps.
  • The company is also testing dynamic paywalls, which will ask people to register user profiles when they hit a paywall. In the future, the paywall will be optimized for a number of factors, ranging from what content triggered a user's hitting the paywall to the user’s overall history with the Post, where they’re coming from, and the device they’re using

By the numbers: Subscribers who visit the Post’s apps now consume three times more content than subscribers on the Post’s website, says Downs Mulder.

  • New features like the Discover tab in The Washington Post app, dynamic story carousels that promote recirculation, and rich notifications have helped drive 10% growth in app page views year over year.

The big picture: The Post's product push comes as the company continues to put most of its resources and focus into accruing and retaining subscribers.

  • "We view The Washington Post as a subscription product and any non-subscriber access is viewed as sampling in hopes that the reader becomes a subscriber," says Ryan.
  • An example of the way the Post's product team has sought to elevate that vision is by creating a new metric that focuses on subscriber engagement called "subscriber-weighted page views," which measures page views that over-index with subscribers or potential subscribers.

The Bezos talent effect: The new masthead speaks to the Post's commitment to growing as a product and technology company under the guidance of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who bought the company for $250 million in 2013. Ryan says Bezos' influence has been a recruiting boon.

  • "Access and ability to recruit and retain engineers has been an amazing byproduct of Jeff's ownership," Ryan says. "Our engineers are in regular conversation with Jeff about ways to constantly improve our UX [user experience], and how we test and experiment with new products."

Be smart: With Downs Mulder added to the list, there are now 10 women on the Post's masthead of 24 people. Since Ryan became publisher in 2014, 10 new positions have been added to the Post's masthead, 9 of which are currently occupied by women.

What next: Ryan says that the Post will continue to use product development efforts to lure new subscribers, especially overseas.

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