In the span of less than two years, Nice-Matin has managed to completely revamp its digital platforms and launch a paid subscription offer – again with little or no prior digital culture within the organisation.
“Nowadays, the biggest strength of a media company is the community you’re serving,” said Damien Allemand, head of digital at Nice-Matin. “You need to include the people, involve them in the processes of your organisation to ensure that they feel like they’re part of it. They need to trust you.”
With this community-based approach in mind, Nice-Matin got started on creating a new website, mobile apps and a paid digital subscription offer a couple of years ago that has now attracted 7000 subscribers. In June 2017, almost 6.5 million visitors came to the site and page views stood at nearly 23.5 million, a 35 percent increase compared to the year before, according to ACPM. On top of that, Allemand said that in 2016 the group made nearly three million euros in revenue on the web, of which a third came from subscriptions.
But back in 2014 – when revenue on the web was below 300,000 euros – this all seemed like a long shot. After the group, which publishes the daily newspapers Nice-Matin, Var-Matin and Monaco-Matin with a combined average circulation of 133 594, filed for bankruptcy it was faced with takeover bids from major media groups.
Unwilling to let their organisation fall into the hands of those groups, employees formed a cooperative and after raising more than €400,000 via a crowdfunding initiative and garnering financial support from businessman Bernard Tapie, the staff succeeded in acquiring the group.
“After the employees bought the group, it was all about developing digital because we were extremely behind in that regard,” said Allemand, who joined the company as a reporter in 2008.
Building a digital offer from scratch
As a result, the new management’s first order of business was to start building a digital offer, calling in consultant Benoît Raphaël to lead the effort. This, however, came with its own set of considerable challenges.
“They had no money, so I couldn’t invest, I couldn’t hire new people,” Raphaël said. “There was no digital culture in the group, and there was no digital team.”
As the last members of the digital department had left the company as part of a redundancy plan, Raphaël recruited around 20 people from within the group to re-establish it, all of which had little or no experience in digital publishing.
“You therefore have to recruit people based on their personality, openness, motivation but also personal passions,” Raphaël said.
The selected employees came from different departments and were set up in a newly created open space, close to management and the rest of the editorial staff.
“If you want to be agile, you can’t work in silos. You need to make different departments work together. So we started to break down walls,” he added.
After securing €600,000 in funding from Google, the digital department was able to get to work.
The launch of the beta version of Nice-Matin’s new digital platform came in September 2015, a mere five months after the creation of the digital department, with the old website still available alongside it. The team invited readers to join a Facebook group titled “Keep calm, work in progress”, in which hundreds of them offered their feedback on the site.
Incorporating the suggestions, the team launched the final version in early 2016. In addition to that, they revamped the group’s mobile apps, and launched a responsive mobile version of the site. In 2016, the group says its digital audience increased by 150 percent and mobile traffic by 317 percent.
As part of its digital strategy, the group is also strongly focusing on data.
“Before 2014, there was no data culture at all within the organisation,” Allemand said. “Now, it’s at the heart of everything we do. We look at what works, what doesn’t work, and if something still doesn’t play out the way we want it to after several attempts, we abandon the idea.”
A subscription offer based on solutions journalism
Taking its digital endeavours further, Nice-Matin launched a paid subscription offer in beta in December 2015, aimed at forging a relationship with the community and finding solutions to local issues.
When discussing the creation and launch of a paywall project, Nice-Matin sought inspiration from media outlets and trends in other countries, such as the United States, the UK or the Netherlands.
“What we found was that we needed to move towards this type of journalism if we wanted to change our newspaper and introduce a paywall,” Allemand said.
Dubbed #monjournal (my newspaper), the digital offer is priced at €9,90 a month, and is part of print subscription bundles as well. It includes a “solutions journalism” section, allowing subscribers to participate in editorial decisions, therefore providing them with a personalised reading experience. It also gives them access to unique events.
“We thought it would be difficult to get readers to pay when they were used to reading everything for free online, so we decided to approach it as a community-based offer rather than a purely editorial offer,” Allemand said.
Five reporters are dedicated to creating content for the solutions journalism section, having so far tackled subjects such as politics, terrorism, homelessness or school bullying. The aim of this type of reporting is to identify and address problems while also providing a constructive angle geared towards finding solutions.
“The reporters working on this offer create long-form journalism, work with different formats – lots of video and infographics – and approach topics in a different way, adding a sixth question to the five journalistic Ws, namely, ‘what can we do about this now’?”
Paying heed to their commitment to build a meaningful relationship with subscribers, the reporters invite them to choose the topics they want to see covered.
“During editorial meetings, the journalists pick out three topics, and create an overview of the issues associated with it, and solutions that could be identified. After that, a form is sent to subscribers and they can select the topic they want to be covered,” Allemand said.
The reporters cover one topic per month, producing between 10 and 30 articles.
7,000 subscribers in one and half years
Readers are allowed to vote for or against specific stories/topics once they are published to personalise their reading experience even more. In addition to that, Nice-Matin organises events every two weeks for subscribers so they can meet each other and have “really great experiences”.
So far, the offer has garnered 7,000 digital subscribers in one and a half years.
“We’re very satisfied, we’re gaining new subscribers each month, so that’s really positive,” Allemand said.
The key to success of the offer, he added, depends on the strong relationship the paper forges with its readers.
“It’s essential to involve readers, to let them take part in editorial decisions, to invite them into the newsroom,” Allemand said.
“They actually want to participate, and with what we’re doing, we’re chipping away at that image of the media that’s enclosed in this ivory tower. It’s a very transparent approach, which is aimed at really establishing trust and a connection with our community.”