Weekend Update: Should You Publish Every Day?

In 2006, Time magazine realized its readers were too busy during the week to flip through each issue. When they finally could devote enough time to read the articles, the news was already old. So Richard Stengel, the magazine’s former editor-in-chief, made a drastic move. The publication would hit newsstands on Friday instead of Monday morning.

“I think that really saved the magazine,” said Tracy Schmidt, director of social media at Crain Communications and an independent social media consultant, who worked at Time during the change. “It was then redesigned for a weekend experience. So it was a recap of the week behind and a look at the week coming up.”

The way people interact with media and social media today affects publishing schedules. In the early days of the internet, most people accessed information at work, so publishers adjusted accordingly, posting most of their online content between nine and five. Now, though, there’s a need to be active all the time. Legacy publishers like The New York Times post breaking news pieces online before they hit print. And now many digital-first publications have weekend editors who are hired to stay ahead of everything that happens on Saturday and Sunday.

“It ultimately comes down to understanding who your users are, when they are online, and when they’re in a mindset to be interested in what you’re doing,” said Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. “I think that really varies widely on who’s doing the publishing.”

Inspiring and entertaining, seven days a week

The weekend publishing push isn’t just a phenomenon for traditional news outlets. Refinery29, a website for “smart, creative, and stylish women,” regularly posts new stories about beauty and lifestyle topics on Saturdays and Sundays. But that wasn’t always the case, at least until the editorial team started getting more sophisticated data on its readers.

“On all of our platforms, we’re thinking about user behavior,” said Neha Gandhi, SVP of content strategy and innovation at Refinery29. “People are online and news is breaking and people want to be entertained and inspired and informed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”

“The world doesn’t stop turning.”

Over the last few years, people were visiting the site regularly during work hours, but Gandhi began seeing an uptick in readership on nights and weekends. In response, Refinery29 created evening and weekend teams to produce content for those busier times.

The site now plans out stories focused on brunch recipes and beauty tips for Saturday, and shopping content for Sunday nights. There’s also a weekend staff that can react quickly to social trends and breaking news events that tie into the site’s coverage.

“The world doesn’t stop turning,” Gandhi said. “There is always news, entertainment stories, celebrities are doing things, movies are coming out, social media is potentially churning out new reactions to things, and we want to be abreast of that and part of those conversations.”

Less crowded, more distribution

In addition to keeping up with the latest news, there’s another reason why publishers have opened up their editorial calendars: competition. If everyone publishes Monday through Friday, the weekend offers websites a chance to differentiate themselves.

“It’s a little bit of a less crowded space to get people’s attention,” Gordon said. “People … are more likely to be paying attention to what’s being shared by email or social media at times other than the business day.”

Distribution plays a crucial role for the publishers vying for that attention. It’s not about just publishing new content on the weekends—editors have to consider when and how to promote content at all times. Schmidt believes publishers need to think about the “life” of a post when they’re putting it together.

“It’s a two-phase approach,” she said. “One is the initial push for a publication’s new content and that should absolutely go out on social media immediately and also go into newsletter pretty quickly, if possible. Second, [it’s about] really stretching that piece of content as far as you can.”

According to Hootsuite, one of the best times to post to Facebook is between 12 and 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Crain, meanwhile, schedules content to go live 5 a.m. to 11 p.m throughout the week. Most of the site’s readers are business professionals or executives, so the only time they have to read is in the morning or late at night.

Testing instead of guessing

Not all publications need to constantly publish new content on Saturdays and Sundays. Trade publications targeting a specific industry, like B2B, for example, probably operate outside the typical news cycle, and as a result, wouldn’t gain much from weekend publishing. But the best way to find out is experimentation.

Condé Nast Traveler does not break news. Its digital output primarily consists of features. But through testing, Laura Redman, Traveler’s deputy digital director, told me the site still found a way to capitalize on current events while staying true to the luxury lifestyle pieces, travel guides, and inspirational stories that readers expect. About one-third of Condé Nast Traveler’s stories published Monday through Friday cover travel trends and news stories; the rest of the publishing schedule is reserved for feature stories.

“We did a little research and we found that our loyal readers, who usually come to us through our newsletter, are more interested in inspiration than news on weekends,” Redman said. Because of that insight, Condé Nast Traveler posts only one new featured story each weekend day.

For others, posting a few pieces of pre-planned content on Saturday and Sunday is enough to engage readers. At Crain, Schmidt has found that publishing a newsletter about the latest social media news on Sunday nights between 6 and 7:30 p.m. is very effective in getting her audience of business professionals to pay attention. During that time frame, her open rate is consistently over 50 percent. But if she delays just an hour or two, the open rates drop by 5 or 6 percent.

“The good news is this is all testable,” Gordon said. “That’s the beauty of this publishing medium. At a fairly low complexity and cost, you can try it and see what happens.”

Image by Meriel Jane Waissman / Getty

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