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 the Digital Media Asia (DMA) conference, Asia’s largest and foremost news media industry event on digital trends, revenues, and technology.
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 the first panel discussion on trends in digital news consumption and monetisation opportunities, Katherine Kuan, General Manager, udn.com, 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 speaker on the panel, Ernest Luis, Podcast Editor, The Straits Times, SPH Media, emphasised that 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 one 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 have been forced to embark on a digital transformation journey and find new ways to drive digital growth and revenue. However, the digital audience is growing; people are now reading on mobile phones and tablets. As a result, news products have fallen behind, making it difficult to innovate.
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.
Subscription fatigue refers to consumers being overwhelmed and often frustrated by the amount of content and options available.
Chengyan Ni emphasised that the news media industry must innovate because of the rise of big tech. In these times, strategic partnerships can help a variety of goals, he said. Partnership is the key to bringing about change and growth in revenue and traffic.
Citing an example of the famous toy company Lego, he said there was a time in Lego’s history when things didn’t look great. The toy company 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 like Hasbro.
The Danish toy company was able to widen its fanbase, open up markets, and reach new audiences.
Further elaborating on The Wall Street Journal partnership, Chengyan Ni said that the Bangkok Post ePaper subscriber base increased more than 100 percent within the first year and more than 200 percent over the past three years after the WSJ partnership.
Similarly, Mainichi in Japan 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. However, Aftenposten, Norway’s largest new 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. “Aftenposten revenue from paid subscribers is breaking records this year. However, over the last 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, it can only retain 37 percent of the subscribers. To combat this problem, the publication conducts 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 digital 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.
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