Katie Vanneck Smith, Chief Marketing Officer of News UK, said at a Digital Editors Network Conference in London earlier this week that it had taken 15 months to recover the losses in sales from when the paywall went up. It seems that the initial mistrust of and aversion to paying for news online is changing, just as news organisations are starting to develop more cohesive ideas on how to approach digital media.
She explained that overall reading time had increased: Readers used to spend 40 minutes in print. The average reader was now spending 30 minutes on the print product plus 12 on digital material. Although this shows a slight decrease in time spent with the physical paper, the majority of reading time is still being spent on printed news.
When discussing how they had achieved such success, Smith outlined the group’s strategy, which had three pillars:
1. Content was paid for on all channels
2. Content had to be distinct and differentiated from free competitors
3. Success was built on relationships
A lesson for other publishers putting up paywalls was not to price digital content too cheaply. News as a commodity rarely sells, but people would buy subscriptions that gave them access to great journalism, great columnists and great bundles. She went on to say that ‘Digital wasn’t the threat we thought it was’, and that in fact it ‘enables us to build relationships with customers.’
These subscription statistics are obviously encouraging as they indicate that digital subscription does not necessarily impinge on print subscription, and can even have a positive influence on print sales. Mike Darcey, Chief Editor of News UK, said in a release that “Charging for our journalism allows us to invest in our journalism.” There seems to be a change in attitude towards paid-for online content, particularly when, as Smith suggested, there is a relationship between the paper and the subscriber and the subscriber therefore can trust in the quality of what they are paying for.
These release of these statistics coincide with the Financial Times, announcing that since going digital-first they are now employing more journalists than ever. These figures suggest a promising future for digital media, and perhaps will start to abate fears as to the negative effect the internet will have on journalism in general and in particular print production.
Following in this fashion; The New York Times will, starting from next year, be offering various digital-only subscription products “at different rates, in order to make it more profitable and relevant,” as Josh Sternberg reports. As he says, “The paywall is growing up because it has no choice”; and importantly the issue at and is not choosing between free and paid for content. Instead, it is “figuring out how to generate the dual revenue stream that news organizations have always relied on and remain flexible in achieving that goal.”
Emma Tucker, the newly-appointed deputy editor of The Times, said that the figures from News UK “show you can make a success of it” with paid-for online content. These numbers do not transform The Times and The Sunday Times into the perfect digital news model, their strategy has clearly worked and allow for a positive outlook on the future of other newspapers. Tucker went on to say that although “it does still feel as if everybody is still scrabbling trying to work out which model works but it is not as wild as it was.”