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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

All the News that's fit to Newsprint

Can any company do its own version of Spotify Wrapped, the personalized graphical synopsis of your annual listening habits that was clearly built for sharing?

No, probably not.

Most of our habits simply aren't as shareable as the music we chose to consume.*

But as far as attempts go, The Washington Post gets top marks for its Newsprint effort.

Newsprint is billed as an "interactive feature [that] showcases a shareable summary of a subscriber’s top journalism engagement".

I got my Newsprint email last week; the subject line was, "What kind of reader are you?"

"The impatient kind," I thought, "So get to the point..."

But I was curious about the reading insights the Post was going to offer, the popular articles I missed, and what personalized recommendations were in store for me, so I clicked the big black button and was taken to My 2022 Newsprint landing page. And once I clicked the "Take a Closer Look" button prominently featured at the bottom, I was given my first insight.

Wow! I read 421 stories from The Washington Post last year.

This is somewhat embarrassing because my annual subscription (purchased on a Boxing Day sale last year) only cost me $13.51 CDN... which works out to $0.032 per article. No wonder the newspaper business is struggling. I'm normally very frugal, but I'm suddenly okay with the fact I had to renew my subscription last week for $39.

Ready for another insight, I clicked forward...

The "Technology" and "Opinions" categories weren't a surprise to me, but I was shocked that my top category was "Lifestyle"... until I visited the website and realized all the newspaper's "Parenting" articles fell under that category. (As a father of four, I trust you'll forgive me for reading any and all articles about how life can be made less complicated.)

I thought things were starting to get interesting so I clicked forward... only to find this:

This page was a disappointment. Sure, WP was just trying to be helpful in recommending a newsletter it thought I might enjoy... but I was in the middle of reviewing my insights, and they interrupted my fun just to try and boost their newsletter numbers. Spotify wouldn't try something like that. But I decided to forgive them and continued to click forward.

I found this page interesting, but not for the reasons WP would have liked. I don't recall reading any of these eight articles, which would suggest the recommendation engine is doing its job by truly suggesting articles I "missed". But here's the part I found interesting: I wasn't particularly interested in reading any of these suggested articles, which indicates the recommendation engine isn't analyzing all those Lifestyle, Technology, and Opinion pieces well enough to identify what it was that drew me into the articles I chose to read.

A for effort, though.

Well, okay then! I was in the Top 20% of all technology readers this year... although since "Technology" was only my #2 most-read category, I have to wonder if this means people REALLY like WPs's Lifestyle section, or really don't like what they have to say about tech.

What's next, I wondered...

Hmmm... this was actually a decent suggestion for me, as anybody who's reading my blog would already know. I love business in general, and I read a whole lot about it. The only problem here? I didn't know The Washington Post had a business section, and it sure isn't clear that they do from the top of their webpage...

So this was a pretty good suggestion, WP... but for now, I think I'll continue to get my business news from my The Globe and Mail and The Wall Street Journal subscriptions.

The next page offered another surprise...

... because although I'm apparently one of Mr. Barnes' most loyal readers, I don't recognize his name or face. The fact that he's a reporter who covers the U.S. Supreme Court explains why I'm such a fan, though: if you haven't been keeping up, there's been quite a lot of news on that subject this year, and I've been trying to stay informed. So I'll count this as another interesting insight...

Ah! Another suggestion. The recommendation makes sense given what Ms. Kitchener covers and how interested I've been in Mr. Barnes coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court... but again, did it have to interrupt my insights with a pitch? Honestly, WP, this is twice in a single recap. Do better...

And just as I say that they did better: they decided to thank me for my paid support of their newspaper. Well, you're welcome: keep up the good work. (And the great Boxing Day sales.)

And of course, after all of this, I wanted to see my Newsprint summary...

The interesting part about this final page is that big, black "Share" button.

As far as the actual content of my Newsprint goes, is this something I'd be eager to share?

(Well, outside of this blog, of course.)

No, not really. I mean, reading the equivalent of a 1,135-page book was somewhat impressive, but was anything else really noteworthy enough for my newsfeed?

And that brings us back to the question I asked at the start of this post: can any company do its own version of Spotify Wrapped?

No, most probably can't. At least not successfully.

But I applaud The Washington Post for the rationale used to justify this effort: in their own words, "This new feature builds on The Post’s continued experimentation with tailoring experiences based on a subscriber’s identified interests."

Not all experiments are going to succeed, but experimenting to see how you can give your customers a better experience is usually going to be a worthy use of your resources. Plus, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

But for the record, I won't need to see a summary of the food categories I purchased the most in 2023, so Walmart, you can save yourself the trouble.


* If you're wondering what song I listened to most on Spotify in 2022, it was this...

... which I listened to for 199 minutes, putting me in the top 5% of all Wig Wam's listeners. This song always manages to cheer me up, so I want to take this opportunity to thank James Gunn for deciding to make a Remarkable Difference and including it as the Peacemaker's opening number.


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