BE­YOND THE PAGE

With the life ex­pectancy of print news­pa­pers dwin­dling, pub­lish­ers are has­ten­ing their push into dig­i­tal.

New Zealand Marketing - - Bauer Media -

In the 1941, Or­son Welles film Ci­ti­zen Kane about the rise and fall of news­pa­per mag­nate Charles Fos­ter Kane, Kane flip­pantly re­marks to his an­gered for­mer guardian: “I don't know how to run a news­pa­per, Mr. Thatcher; I just try every­thing I can think of.”

Once, in the not-too-dis­tant past, run­ning a pa­per with a suc­cess­ful ad­ver­tis­ing model was a straight­for­ward process that had been tick­ing along quite nicely for well over a cen­tury. A large num­ber of peo­ple bought and read pa­pers and there­fore, a large num­ber of busi­nesses would ad­ver­tise in them. And pay quite hand­somely to do so.

Then, of course, dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion came along and pub­lish­ers were turned on their heads, hav­ing to re­think how to keep news­pa­pers alive while evolving to an ever-ad­vanc­ing dig­i­tal world.

And, like Kane, they’ve been try­ing every­thing they can think of. There have been at­tempted merg­ers, talk of pay­walls, new and un­ex­pected busi­ness ven­tures and com­pet­ing pub­lish­ers have banded to­gether in ways that would have pre­vi­ously been thought im­pos­si­ble (see Fol­low The Money on page 17).

Crunch­ing the num­bers

Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data from Nielsen, the num­ber of peo­ple read­ing news­pa­pers in New Zealand has grown, but only marginally.

Na­tional av­er­age is­sue read­er­ship for 2017 sits at 3.77 mil­lion (15-plus) com­pared to last year’s 3.68 mil­lion.

The most-read daily metropoli­tan news­pa­per is

NZ Her­ald, which has seen its read­er­ship dip a lit­tle from the year pre­vi­ous, from 423,000 to 415,000.

The Do­min­ion Post and the

Otago Daily Times man­aged to grow their read­er­ship slightly (with the ODT see­ing the largest growth), while The Waikato

Times and The Press both lost read­ers, with the lat­ter los­ing the most, slip­ping quite sig­nif­i­cantly from 63,000 to 44,000.

Cir­cu­la­tion fig­ures are down for all of the above ti­tles, though only marginally, with The

Do­min­ion Post see­ing the big­gest dip, from 52,115 at the end of 2016, to 46,719 to the same pe­riod in 2017 (10.35 per­cent).

This drop in cir­cu­la­tion is re­flected in the most re­cent ASA an­nual ad rev­enue re­port, which shows news­pa­pers brought in $353 mil­lion in 2017, while their dig­i­tal prop­er­ties brought in $82 mil­lion. This was quite a big drop for news­pa­pers, from $417 mil­lion in 2016. How­ever, dig­i­tal prop­er­ties did in­crease from $61 mil­lion for 2016.

Stuff's and NZ Her­ald's web­sites are both pop­u­lar in New Zealand, sit­ting among the top 10 most pop­u­lar web­sites and have both grown. Stuff drew in 2.2 mil­lion New Zealan­ders last April, while NZ Her­ald saw 1.9 mil­lion visit.

To com­pare, in Jan­uary 2016 Stuff had 1.6 mil­lion vis­i­tors, while NZ Her­ald had 1.38 mil­lion.

But, de­spite this growth in news­pa­pers’ dig­i­tal as­sets, print rev­enue is fall­ing faster than dig­i­tal rev­enue is climb­ing and it’s dif­fi­cult to see how pub­lish­ers can grow their dig­i­tal chan­nels fast enough to off­set the loss.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, even dig­i­tal-first news sites are suf­fer­ing. Ac­cord­ing to The

Wash­ing­ton Post, both Buz­zfeed and Vice re­cently missed rev­enue tar­gets. And Mash­able, val­ued in

March 2016 at around $250 mil­lion, re­cently sold for less than $50 mil­lion.

Play­ing catch up

Pub­lish­ers in New Zealand have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with all kinds of tac­tics to make up for the losses in print rev­enue.

Stuff has made some of the big­gest of these changes, an­nounc­ing the clo­sure of 28 mast­heads (mak­ing up 35 per­cent of its print pub­li­ca­tions) ear­lier this year in or­der to pour more money into dig­i­tal and its other busi­ness ven­tures.

Fur­ther, it switched all of its Mon­day to Fri­day metropoli­tan and re­gional news­pa­pers from broad­sheet to com­pact for­mat, as well as two Sun­day pa­pers.

Stuff chief rev­enue of­fi­cer Robert Hutchin­son says the de­ci­sion to go com­pact was made with both ad­ver­tis­ers and read­ers in mind.

“The move stan­dard­ises ad­ver­tis­ing there­fore sav­ing cus­tomers time and ef­fort with re­siz­ing and book­ing,” he says. “We all know news­pa­pers are fi­nan­cially chal­lenged so this was, and is, a big change.”

But, he says the change was nec­es­sary. “The phys­i­cal change gave us a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to en­hance and sharpen up our prod­ucts. It was based on lis­ten­ing to our read­ers and de­liv­er­ing them what they want.”

Stuff has also thrown a fo­cus on new busi­ness ven­tures to grow its rev­enue like Neigh­bourly, Stuff Fi­bre, Stuff Pix and En­er­gy­clubnz.

“Stuff is fo­cused on build­ing new busi­nesses so that we can con­tinue to fund high qual­ity lo­cal jour­nal­ism and de­velop a wide range of di­verse and new rev­enue streams,” Hutchin­son says.

Com­pet­ing pub­lisher NZME has fo­cussed strongly on its

dig­i­tal as­sets, which can be seen in its launch of video news show NZ Her­ald Fo­cus and spon­sored con­tent se­ries The Econ­omy Hub, in 2016.

It also an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary that it plans to put up a pay­wall on its pre­mium con­tent, which NZME chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Boggs says is sup­posed to launch by the end of this year.

“The im­ple­men­ta­tion of The

Wash­ing­ton Post’s arc con­tent man­age­ment plat­form as part of the nzher­ald.co.nz re­launch last year pro­vides en­hanced data and au­di­ence an­a­lyt­ics which will en­able us to cu­rate and charge for the pre­mium and in-depth con­tent that is unique to NZME.”

How­ever, Boggs says NZME will con­tinue to fo­cus on its print prod­ucts, which con­trib­ute over 50 per­cent of NZME’S over­all rev­enue streams.

NZME and Stuff have also an­nounced their in­ten­tion to ap­peal the High Court's de­clin­ing of a merger be­tween the two com­pa­nies, with the pub­lish­ers hop­ing to pull their re­sources to­gether to bet­ter com­pete against me­dia gi­ants like Face­book and Google.

Boggs says he be­lieves the merger will im­prove the New Zealand pub­lish­ing in­dus­try’s abil­ity to com­pete with other chan­nels and also ex­tend the longevity of the print in­dus­try.

“We need to be able to im­prove our cost struc­ture to meet the com­pe­ti­tion from other chan­nels. We will need to find a way to do this with or with­out the merger.”

Richard Pook, gen­eral man­ager of Am­plifi at Dentsu Aegis Net­work told Stop­press his con­cerns with New Zealand’s me­dia land­scape lie in the lack of scale to sup­port two large ad-funded news web­sites.

“As an out­sider who moved to New Zealand in Fe­bru­ary last year, I don’t think that the merger would have had a huge im­pact on the di­ver­sity of com­ment and thought,” he said.

“Most of the po­lit­i­cal dis­course seems to be lo­cated around the cen­tre al­ready, and news comes from so many other sources. I think the risk of them dis­ap­pear­ing al­to­gether would have a much greater im­pact on New Zealand’s me­dia land­scape and wider so­ci­ety.”

A trust­ing au­di­ence

One thing news­pa­pers still have go­ing for them is a trust­ing, loyal au­di­ence.

A News Works study re­leased by Col­mar Brun­ton late last year found only 38 per­cent of con­sumers trust Face­book. This fig­ure dropped fur­ther to 24 per­cent when re­spon­dents were asked whether they trusted ad­ver­tis­ing on the chan­nel.

Trust was com­par­a­tively higher in tra­di­tional me­dia, with 87 per­cent of re­spon­dents trust­ing print news­pa­pers and ra­dio.

Boggs says NZ Her­ald pro­vides a safe place for ad­ver­tis­ers to reach their au­di­ence.

“A lot of ad­ver­tis­ers are rightly very con­cerned about how un­con­trolled dig­i­tal dis­tri­bu­tion of their brand through some of the lead­ing global so­cial plat­forms could lead to brand dam­age.”

Hutchin­son agrees, say­ing rel­e­vance and trust are built up through years of lo­cal con­tent and de­liv­ery.

“Be­cause our brands have her­itage, they’ve earned the re­spect of our read­ers and there­fore our read­ers trust them,” he says. “When an ad­ver­tiser’s brand is aligned with our pa­pers, con­sumers are more likely to trust what you’re say­ing.”

What’s the ap­peal?

While some brands have shifted their ad spend away from news­pa­pers (Count­down, for ex­am­ple) oth­ers main­tain its ap­peal and rel­e­vance as an ad­ver­tis­ing medium.

West­pac is one brand that ad­ver­tises in news­pa­pers con­sis­tently, and drew at­ten­tion for a cam­paign last year when it teamed up with FCB and NZME to tackle the is­sue of gen­der equal­ity in busi­ness lead­er­ship roles.

West­pac brand and spon­sor­ship di­rec­tor Gra­ham Wright says West­pac con­tin­ues to ad­ver­tise in news­pa­pers as it’s a chan­nel where there is an au­di­ence who tend to have longer dwell times where West­pac can com­mu­ni­cate tar­geted and rel­e­vant mes­sages.

“Print plays a piv­otal role for West­pac New Zealand to still reach and com­mu­ni­cate de­pend­ing on the cus­tomer in­sight and strat­egy we are de­liv­er­ing to.”

Wright says one pro of news­pa­pers is it’s an estab­lished chan­nel. “[And] you can tar­get to quite a gran­u­lar level the type of con­tent you com­mu­ni­cate.”

How­ever he says there are also a few cons. “It can take longer to un­der­stand the im­pact and value, [it] tends to be more ex­pen­sive to cre­ate and de­liver con­tent and more dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain per­for­mance and op­ti­mise.”

De­spite this, Wright says he’s seen first-hand news­pa­pers de­liver strong brand and com­mu­ni­ca­tion results. “Suc­cess has been mea­sured look­ing at aware­ness, en­gage­ment and sales met­rics at­trib­uted to a spe­cific piece of news­pa­per communications.”

Though read­er­ship and cir­cu­la­tion fig­ures have been drop­ping for years now, it’s sur­pris­ing and en­cour­ag­ing to see a slight growth in over­all read­er­ship in 2017 and cir­cu­la­tion rel­a­tively sta­ble among the big­ger metropoli­tan ti­tles.

But, with a swift de­cline in print rev­enue, will pub­lish­ers be able to make up for the short­fall? Though our big­gest pub­lish­ers have planted seeds in dig­i­tal and other ven­tures, time will only tell if the fruits of their labour prove boun­ti­ful.

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