The online news audience is enormous and growing, becoming more mobile and social. But instead of capitalizing on the opportunities it presents, many publishers remain paralyzed by the pull of their legacy business models and consumer offerings.
Trinity Mirror’s launch of The New Day in February 2016 is a good example. Even though only 45% of UK readers paid for printed newspapers in 2015 (down eight per cent from two years ago), the ever-optimistic publisher still called its new printed publication, “an exciting and innovative initiative which builds on our confidence in
print media.” I applaud the publisher for its willingness to try something different and perhaps timing was not in their favor. But whatever the reasons, The New Day lasted only nine short weeks before being axed for lack of circulation.
But Trinity Mirror is not alone; many publishers are struggling to implement a comprehensive content strategy that delivers the RIGHT content to the RIGHT audience, at the RIGHT time, at the RIGHT price, through the RIGHT distribution channels.
The right content
Publishers who haven’t succumbed to temptation to slash newsroom budgets have got this right, focusing on their core competency of delivering quality editorial content. However, many are still seriously missing the proverbial boat when it comes to serving up quality advertising, adding fuel to the ad blocking firestorm hitting their websites.
The right audience and time
In order to attract and retain readers, publishers need to invest in real-time analytics to better understand people’s interests and preferences. They need to deliver discoverable, frictionless content that meets readers’ unique needs, whether they be traditional news consumers or today’s more promiscuous digital natives.
The right price
With only six per cent of UK readers paying for digital news, monetizing content has turned into a frustrating trial and error game. Paywalls in all their forms have been bouncing up and down like yo-yos. The Sun, Britain’s biggest selling daily newspaper, tore down its wall last November after two years of trying to make it work. The
Financial Times recently sprung a few leaks in its paywall to entice more readers. Even the posterchild for metered paywalls, The New YorkTimes with 1.3 million digital subscribers, continues to hemorrhage millions of dollars on a quarterly basis.
The ‘Guardian approach’ – growing readership by providing all of its content for free – has successfully built a 160-million-strong following worldwide, but that hasn’t helped curb the unsustainable losses it incurs year after year.
But paywalls and membership programs are just two ways publishers can consider when looking to grow revenues. There are others; which leads us to …
The right distribution channels
I’m a huge proponent for being 100% cross-platform and offering content everywhere readers are. I also strongly believe that quality journalism deserves compensation; I just don’t think readers should necessarily be the ones paying for it.
Today, free and paid distribution platforms give readers a one-stop-shop for content that educates, entertains and engages them. But not all platforms are created equal.
Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Twitter Moments and Snapchat Discover all offer publishers opportunities to make some money through advertising. Good choices for content include breaking news, non-exclusive content, native advertising and custom content that link back to unique and compelling articles hosted on a publisher’s website. But the risks of jumping all-in are substantial, including the potential loss of content control, advertiser loyalty, brand equity, editorial and advertising freedom and website traffic.
Traditional digital newsstands (e.g. iTunes, ePresse and Kiosko
y Más) offer full-content magazine and/or newspaper titles through a pay-per-issue newsstand model. These platforms serve readers who are interested in specific publications, but deliver few opportunities for smaller publishers to get noticed by new readers.
There has been a lot of buzz over Blendle’s iTunes style micropayment service in which readers pay pennies to read an article. The jury is out on whether this model will work in English-speaking countries where there is a wealth of free content.
All-you-can-read or “Netflix for News” platforms (e.g. Texture by Next Issue, Magzter, Readly and PressReader) offer a convenient all-access subscription service for magazines. However, PressReader is the only one that also includes thousands of newspapers. The model works well for avid news lovers who want access to multiple publications and global viewpoints on current affairs, but is typically too expensive for casual readers. Which is why PressReader started looking outside traditional news channels for business partners who’d be happy to pay on behalf of readers.
Today thousands of hotels, airlines, cruise ships, libraries, corporations, governments, taxis and other institutions sponsor access to 5,000+ newspapers and magazines on behalf of their guests, passengers, patrons and employees – publications such as The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, The Herald, T3, Wallpaper*, Le
Monde and The Washington Post, to name a few.
Customer-first companies such as Qantas Airways, AccorHotels, Silversea Cruises, the New York Public Library, Uber and even The Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews have made sponsored access an integral part of their customer relationship strategy because it makes dollars and sense to them.
It costs nothing for publishers to participate and when a business pays for content read by their customers, the publisher gets paid. Readers enjoy frictionless access to quality, trusted content and an engaging user experience for free. Businesses are able to offer unique value to customers across all demographics, growing brand equity and loyalty. Meanwhile, publishers receive instant access to a massive audience of hundreds of millions of people they couldn’t reach on their own, helping them grow audience, brand awareness, audited circulation and revenues.
The Bottom Line
The National Readership Survey found that 91% of British adults consume news in print and online with mobile adding 94% audience reach to brands. Obviously the appetite for trusted content is massive and the opportunities to monetize that hunger are huge; readers just don’t want to pay for it. So what’s next?
Giving up control of distribution can be a tough pill to swallow for some publishers, but the fact is they need to think beyond their existing content borders and embrace non-traditional channels to maximize engagement, revenues and profits.