Above image: Three key areas of focus for Sweden’s Bonnier.
By Debbie Goh
Be fast, be first, but most importantly, be local and make content relevant to younger readers. This will enable publishers to connect with their readers, produce the right journalism products, and build loyal subscribers who are willing to pay, said a panel of experts who observed success with revenue-generating ideas during the pandemic.
Damian Radcliffe, University of Oregon Professor; Bonnier News Local Editorial Director Pia Rehnquist, and Sin Chew Media COO Tan Lee Chin joined SPH Radio’s Michelle Martin in discussing clever ideas for generating reader revenue at the Asian Media Leaders eSummit 2021 recently.
“Focus on what the readers want and build loyalty. Without loyalty, you can’t manage anything,” said Rehnquist of Bonnier. The Swedish group, which includes 42 newly acquired local and regional newspapers, gained 10,500 paying digital subscribers in 2020 by strengthening its local focus.
Empowering local editors
Bonnier’s strategy for enhancing local content was to strengthen local autonomy by assigning editors-in-chief to individual local newspapers. This was something the local papers did not have when Bonnier purchased them, said Rehnquist.
“We think that is the key to success – to give a lot of responsibilities to the local people working close to our readers,” she said.
With this strategy, Bonnier’s newspapers were able to be where the news happened, when it happened, provide news and stories about their communities and people, and use investigative, questioning and commentary journalism to connect with readers.
“Be quick, be close to the readers and the communities they live in, and write our news and our stories with the humans in focus,” said Rehnquist.
Succeeding with digital events
Drawing on its expertise and understanding of local sentiments and conditions also enabled Sin Chew Daily, Malaysia’s largest circulating Chinese newspaper, to successfully hold a number of digital events including education fairs, local tourism fairs, and health talks.
“Education is one thing that is very deep in the Chinese psyche in Malaysia. No matter how poor you are, you must spend on education. This is something that is very close to our community,” said Tan.
The two education fairs it held in June and December 2020 earned revenue and new education clients, with more than 800,00 page views and 8,000 registrations for the December fair alone.
When the COVID-19 pandemic was more controlled and more extensive travel was possible, Sin Chew worked with local tourism agencies to organise two travel fairs that encouraged people to “keep spending and contribute to local tourism,” said Tan. “We hoped to play a role within the whole ecosystem to keep the economy growing a little bit,” she said.
The events were in line with Sin Chew’s plan to build a membership programme with loyal paying subscribers who had high engagement, said Tan. Success of the events, however, rested on acting fast and responding quickly to market demands, said Tan.
Sin Chew began planning the education fair in February 2020. When Malaysia went into lockdown in March and publishers were looking into monetising their audience online, Sin Chew was already building its e-fair, said Tan.
Moving fast to take advantage of opportunities
Rehnquist also stressed speed.
“We have to move very quickly and very fast to look for the opportunities. We are constantly talking to people and seeing what kind of opportunities they have that we can collaborate, we can make it work, and we can test it,” she said.
“If you have any idea, you can start small and see how it resonates with whatever you have at the moment and you can leverage from there. And once it doesn’t work, it’s time to ditch the idea,” she added.
Engaging the next generation
Radcliffe, the author of the report “50 ways to make media pay,” said that digital events were effective revenue-generating verticals that publishers need to consider.
He said digital events on different social platforms were here to stay because they were more cost-effective and reached a wider audience by transcending geographic restrictions of physical events.
He also emphasised value-added and premium content for niche audiences, including finding creative and innovative ways to establish relationships with younger audiences.
“This is a really good thing when we think about ways in which we want to engage the next generation of consumers, develop a relationship and rapport with them, have them develop an affinity for our brands,” Radcliffe said.
For Bonnier News Local, this meant focusing on stories about people aged 40 and younger and the issues that interested them, said Rehnquist.
She added that news for younger audiences needed to be packaged in more interesting ways, and advised against writing “from an authoritative point of view.” Instead, news should be written from a citizen point of view and feature a lot about “schools, daycare, working life, housing prices.”
“Young people must be able to recognise themselves in the stories we write,” she said, and added that a bonus was that older readers also enjoyed them.
Younger staffers in the newsrooms also have a role to play in enabling publishers to generate revenue, said Tan.
“We really need to invest a lot in our people, in our talent, and be more open-minded in working with our younger generation of journalists,” said Tan. “Give them the room and the space to tell their stories well.”
About the author: Debbie Goh, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Culture, Media, & Performance at the California University of Pennsylvania.
About the editor: Arulnathan John has had a journalism career spanning more than 20 years and has covered a variety of news genres for media agencies in Singapore.