5 Apr, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower
There were a number of key themes at this year’s Guardian Changing Media Summit — an annual conference which brings together a mixture of CEO and director level executives responsible for commercial, creative and digital strategies.
Most significantly, it was clear that publishers are beginning to see more opportunities than threats from digital technologies and much time was spent discussing the innovative monetisation of digital products.
Newspapers (who now think of themselves as news brands) are certainly learning to cope with disruptive technologies. We are all aware that the digital shift slashed advertising revenue and there was a general feeling that content needed to be open. However, some publishers, such as The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post, rebelled. Latest figures show that the New York Times pay wall is finally starting to be profitable. This may explain why 46.7% newspapers now have pay walls and more are following suit (e.g. The Sun, The Telegraph). Pay walls are also showing signs of positively impacting circulation revenue with digital users consuming more news, not less.
Those brave enough to tackle the issue head on by investing in innovation and experimentation are now reaping the benefits. The WELT Group introduced a new subscription model for its digital offerings in December 2012. Its website, DIE WELT, has a metered model based on the The New York Times. Free access is given to users for up to 20 articles per month and users are then required to purchase a subscription from the 21st article. The homepage remains free of charge. Articles which are linked to by search engines, social networks or other pages can also be read for free. DIE WELT also offers a comprehensive brand subscription. All subscribers of a WELT Group newspaper are given unlimited access to the digital offerings, including the website and the apps for smartphones and tablet computers.
Moving away from pay walls and into new digital products, Pearson was the first publisher to release its content in API format to be re-used by other publishers and developers. Since launching Plug & Play in 2011, Pearson’s API data has been free to use by developers, but there is now an agreement that once the usage of that data reaches a certain threshold (what that is depends on the data in question) developers will have to pay a charge to use it. Developers keep all the IP around whatever apps and services they create using the data.
Potentially the most controversial reaction to the changing landscape was that made by Forbes Media. It moved to a self-publishing model in 2010 and recruited 1000 contributors from around the Web, all of whom are offered incentives to build their own audience under the Forbes name. Forbes also gave the same incentives to marketers and encouraged them to create their own content, which is hosted on the same WordPress platform. A data dashboard is publicly visible at the side of each article and updates in real time, thereby instilling a constant sense of competition amongst authors. Forbes has therefore become a platform for content creation rather than a news website. Taking down the walls between editorial and marketing has not been without criticism. However, looking purely at figures, this change has been highly successful – usage increased from 12 million to 26 million unique users according to comScore.
However, Lewis D’Vorkin, Chief Product Officer at Forbes Media, made it clear that publishers need to make sure that they can provide enough content efficiently to warrant expansion to different platforms – “don’t focus on the bright shiny things that other people are looking at and try emulate if you don’t have the content”. This is why Forbes has opened up content creation to the masses and then adds value by curating it. Whether or not this is the best response to the digital challenge is debatable, but what is clear is that those that aren’t experimenting will not survive.