This story was first published by Press Gazette, written by Charlotte Tobitt. It is republished here with permission.

European news publisher Mediahuis has set a goal of generating 70% of its revenue from digital by 2030.

Currently the revenue split is 70% print and 30% digital.

Mediahuis chief executive Gert Ysebaert told the WAN-IFRA World News Media Congress in Copenhagen that this goal, set last year, is now the company’s “North Star”.

They are calling it the 7-7-7 strategy: “to go from 70/30 to 30/70 in seven years. And if we are there by 2030 then we can say that we are a digitally sustainable company.”

Mediahuis currently has more than 30 newsbrands in Belgium, the Netherlands, Republic of IrelandNorthern Ireland, Luxembourg and Germany.

Some of its best-known titles include Belgium’s De Standaard, Dutch daily De Telegraaf, and the Irish Independent which Mediahuis bought as part of a €145.6m buyout deal from Independent News and Media in 2019.

The publisher has 8.8 million subscribers with a roughly 50/50 split between print and digital on average across all the titles.

Some 30% of the revenue contribution comes from digital with some major differences between countries. In Luxembourg and Germany the split is 90/10 towards print, while in the Netherlands it is close to 50/50.

“We have a strategy… we know the direction,” Ysebaert said. “We are not sure that we will get there but we know where to go.”

He added: “This is what we need to do: make more people pay more for more journalism. If we succeed in that, we’ll get to our 30/70.”

Goal ‘to make more people pay more for more journalism’

Ysebaert broke down each part of that goal. To reach “more people”, he said, the connection with younger audiences needs to be “restored” – “probably the hardest” part of the mission.

At Mediahuis the average age of a print subscriber is 70, while a combined prince and digital subscriber is 60 and a digital-only subscriber is 50.

“These younger audiences, they live on social media, they think our news is not relevant anymore, it’s too negative, it’s not about solutions, it’s not connected to their world,” Ysebaert said.

“So that is what we need to do – restore that connection. And we do that by first of all bringing young people and diverse people into our newsrooms… but also experimenting with new paywall models to make sure that these people will in the end pay for journalism.”

To make people pay more for journalism, Mediahuis is developing an “essential subscription”.

At its core is the “inform” category – reporting on “what’s happening every day”.

The second layer, Ysebaert said, is called “guide”. This means “the service journalism. We are sitting, each of us, on a goldmine of ever-increasing content that we’ve made throughout the years that inspires people, to help them live a better life, to live a healthier life… we have loads of good service journalism but we have to bring it at the right time… to the right consumer.”

And the third layer is “enable” meaning additional services such as podcasts, e-books, consumer protection, more health and exercise offerings and hiking and bike routes and navigation tools.

The final part of the strategy is “more journalism” which Ysebaert said does not mean “more content” but is about doing more “signature journalism. It means going back to the roots, the essence of journalism.”

He said this has become more crucial as AI becomes “very good at producing content”.

“But content is not journalism. Journalism is something completely different. At least if you invest in signature journalism being that unique voice for your community, having boots on the ground, being there in every city, in every village, in every street… that is signature journalism and that trust is immensely important.

“With AI flooding the ecosystem, the consumer will really be worried about ‘can I trust this information? Is this reliable?’ And we need to be that reliable and we can be that reliable source of information for our audience.”

Ysebaert added: “So that is what we need to do in the coming seven years. If we manage to make more people pay more for more journalism I’m sure that we can sustain our mission.”

Mediahuis revenues quadrupled since 2014 with acquisitions

Since 2014 when Mediahuis owned just four titles, all in Belgium, it has more than quadrupled its revenues from €285m to €1.2bn.

This has happened largely through consolidation and acquisitions but also, Ysebaert said, “operational excellence”.

Operating profit has gone from €19m to €153m, up by more than eight times.

In the past ten years Mediahuis has gone from a staff of 1,000 people to 4,500.

Ysebaert said the “magic formula” of Mediahuis is “about finding the right balance of local relevance and the power of the group”.

“Local relevance is about continuing to invest in the local identity of each brand – having local anchorage, people on the ground, local newsrooms close to their communities, local independent newsrooms, and also have local management teams that we empower and are accountable for their results… And each of these brands operate in their own markets with their own relevance but actually the dynamics in our industry are quite the same and that’s why it’s important to use the power of the group,” he said.

“We are not a big corporate dictating from above, from top down, what the brands need to do. What we try to do is we operate as a network company… we scale the improvements in each brand… that way we give every brand the sophistication they need.”

He added that “to do this well, you need technology” and Mediahuis has become “one technology organisation” with one tech stack.

This means, he said, “that we can have the top technology at the lowest price possible and make it possible to scale the improvements, the innovations that we make in each of the newsbrands fast to the other brands.

“But on top of that it is not one size fits all – it also provides flexibility at the brand level – so makes sure that each brand can tailor the products and the customer journey to their local needs.”

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