How publishers are combating trust, engagement, social media challenges

2022-11-18. The pandemic has posed many challenges to the news media industry. Panelists at WAN-IFRA’s recent Digital Media Asia conference discussed the issues and opportunities they are seeing now.

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by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | November 14, 2022

By Deepanshu Taumar

In several countries, a significant proportion of people are disconnecting from news or selectively avoiding certain stories that might be categorised as demoralising, according to the 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Report.

“Trust in news has plummeted in most countries – partly reversing the gains that were made during the coronavirus crisis. Polarisation is a factor here, but so are perceptions about the lack of media independence from politicians and corporations,” said Kirsten Eddy, co-author of the report, at the 14th edition of our Digital Media Asia conference. 

Eddy also highlighted that social media is an increasingly compelling gateway to news for many people in the Asia-Pacific region, young people in particular, and the process is only accelerating. 

Additionally, concerns about mis- and disinformation in politics and health remain high across the Asia-Pacific region.

Digital news consumption and monetisation opportunities

In a panel discussion on trends in digital news consumption and monetisation opportunities, Katherine Kuan, General Manager,, Taiwan, highlighted that ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) remains unaffected by the global pandemic. 

She referred to the app “Feng Tea Action” that combines the power of technology and open data, allowing people to open the app to find the water point with one finger, thereby reducing the amount of plastic used.

Another panelist, Ernest Luis, Podcast Editor, The Straits Times, SPH Media, noted how the pandemic changed the audio recording landscape and made newsrooms adapt to digital workflows. 

Luis shared his experience building the audio newsroom and training journalists who were subject matter experts but were not good with audio reporting. He said that with continuous efforts, they now have 1 million downloads from zero downloads in 2018. The Straits Times podcast has generated over SGD$300K from 2020 to date. 

Strategic partnerships to create sustainable growth

Publishers are also continuing their digital transformation journeys to find new ways to drive digital growth and revenues. As the digital audience continues to grow, that means those audiences mostly connect on their mobile. This has also increased a number of challenges and raised the bar for consumer expectations as competition abounds. 

Chengyan Ni, Executive Director of Commercial Partnerships at Dow Jones, APAC, said it is difficult to innovate because even if you are advanced in digital transformation, you are competing with so many other media platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Spotify. 

“We are not only competing against other media platforms in terms of revenue and traffic but also facing subscription fatigue,” he said.

Ni said that strategic partnerships are proving to be increasingly important in this regard. It can help with innovation, change and growth in revenue and traffic. 

Citing an example of the toy company Lego, he said there was a time in Lego’s history when things didn’t look great. They faced intense competition from other toy companies, computers, and video games. But then Lego came up with an innovative partnership solution and decided to partner with its competitors. These partnerships included video games, comics, Hollywood, and other toy companies such as Hasbro.

The Danish toy company was able to widen its fan base, open up markets, and reach new audiences. 

Further elaborating on The Wall Street Journal partnership, Ni said the Bangkok Post ePaper subscriber base increased more than 100 percent within the first year and more than 200 percent during the past three years after the WSJ partnership. 

Similarly, Japan’s Mainichi achieved 80 percent growth in digital subscription acquisitions within the four weeks after entering into the WSJ partnership.

Evolving subscription strategies in the new age media 

Norway has the highest number of paid news reader subscriptions per capita. However, Aftenposten, Norway’s leading quality news publication, is facing a challenge in retaining paid subscribers. “Aftenposten has a hybrid model, including the metered model (6 free articles a week), and a hard paywall. Most of our sales are digital – driven by our default offer of 10 cents for 30 days and by our campaigns that offer a tad longer trial periods for a bit more money,” said Therese Grieves, CX Lead, Schibsted, Norway, during the same conference.

“Our strategy has, for a long time, been to get as many people as possible to try us, which is why we’ve focused on that threshold being as low as possible. However, we now see a decline in the number of loyal subscribers and are therefore looking into the way we are selling,” said Grieves. “During the past five years, our growth has slowed. Aftenposten doubled the number of subscribers from 2016 to 2018, but the curve has flattened.”

Additionally, retention is a big challenge as the Norwegian publication used to retain 50 percent of subscribers after the first month; now, that number is 37 percent of the subscribers. To combat this problem, they conduct various tests through products, news mailers, and personalisation. 

Build micro communities and serve targeted content to retain readers

Lee Williamson, Regional Editorial Director, Power & Purpose and Business Director, Gen.T, Hong Kong, shared insights on Gen.T, Tatler’s content and events platform for entrepreneurs across Asia, and has built reader engagement by creating community through online and offline means. 

“…we had peaked the content. Readers don’t need another article but a demand-driven, user-centric, and problem-solving service. The best way to do this is to build niche communities, as the internet is not just about mass audiences,” he said.

Williamson also indicated that news products must be built around audiences, fans, and loyal users.

WAN-IFRA External Contributor

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