The media, by which I mean purveyors of news in its written form, continue to fight a daily battle to convert readers to their monthly subscription models. These subscriptions, together with advertising revenues, are what keep the media in business. And the recipe has been the same for the past 100 years.
There’s just one problem, and it’s a big one…
Readers loathe subscriptions – they’re inconvenient and often lack transparency. What’s more, readers will not subscribe to multiple news outlets if they cover the same news categories.
Historically, it was possible to subscribe to a single newspaper – the one you could identify with, and which covered your news needs. But the digital age resulted in a media explosion, both in terms of the number of news outlets and the number of niches within news itself, and neither the media profiles nor the reader segments are as clearly defined as they once were.
As such, the media’s most important task is to redesign their deeply outdated business model. And a good starting point would be for the media to focus on making their services attractive to readers in a digital context.
From my perspective, it looks like this:
“The media like behemoths on square wheels … too busy to see that it is time to switch to round wheels and rethink business. At the moment, it seems to me that the media using all their forces to prevent the readers from buying anything.”
The great unresolved potential of the media
Back in the summer of 2017, I was one of the initiators of a Megafonmarket survey – a survey which, among other things, revealed that 66 percent of Danes do not pay for a newspaper subscription, and more than a third of Danes got annoyed when they encountered a clickbait article.
On the one hand, these figures illustrate the paradox of the media’s decision to continue with subscriptions as the only purchase option. On the other, the survey also revealed that a large part of the 66 percent were willing to pay for news.
Thus, with a little digital ambition and a new business model – one that more closely matches the needs and desires of readers – a large customer segment can be activated. However, this requires the media to abandon payment walls, clickbait articles, and any other initiatives that aim to entice readers into a subscription trap.
What’s the alternative? It starts with a willingness to change – to embrace a radical shift in thought. Once that hurdle has been overcome, there is no shortage of experts with the knowledge to unlock a world of digital opportunities for the media: think online sales and web shop conversions, think digital marketing, app design and in-app purchases, think artificial intelligence and other new technologies, think effective customer journeys and, of course, digital business model development.
Three necessary focus areas on the road to digital success
Below, I outline three focus areas that the media must process in-depth to survive in a digital world.
Focus area 1: Simplifying the customer journey – towards several destinations!
If you take your customers seriously, an essential first step is to look at the impediments – all the things that make the journey difficult and/or unattractive from a customer’s point of view. For many readers, subscriptions are simply a no-go zone, so the media should test other end-destinations in the customer journey. For example, it could be pay-as-you-go solutions that offer access to a single article, selected sections, etc. One could also go a step further and, as part of the pay-as-you-go solution, offer a full or partial refund if the reader is not satisfied with the article.
As inspiration, the Amazon company Audible, which sells audiobooks, offers a “friction-free” full refund if a book is not satisfactory to the listener. In other words, the company removes a vital barrier to purchase.
Audible’s refund policy:
Simultaneously, simplifying the customer journey is about making every part of the purchase transaction as easy as possible – and here, every media has a lot to learn.
Today, if you want to buy a one-day access to the Danish news media Midtjyllands Avis, you have to go through 23 fields and checkboxes – and similar scenarios apply to many other Danish media houses. This means that many potential customers will not convert – even if they are sincerely interested. What’s more, if it turns out that the customer’s trigger to purchase was clickbait, well, the frustration becomes enormous. Newspapers ruin the customer journey with what can only be described as their antagonistic approach – thankfully, redemption is at hand!
Although The New York Times is also trying to get readers to subscribe, they are doing it significantly different. From the first interaction, they focus on user needs and remove barriers to purchase:
- The price is transparent
- You can cancel anytime
- You can pay with Apple Pay (which makes the transaction complete in 2 seconds for iPhone users)
Focus area 2: Own disruption – with new technology that runs
The next focus area centers on looking inwards as a news outlet, and asking the question: “How can we, with the articles and data that we already have, use new technologies to make ourselves more attractive to readers?”
With cloud technologies, apps and in-app payment options, location technologies, artificial intelligence, etc., the media have every opportunity to make themselves far more present and relevant to readers.
Our smartphones constantly update our location information, so why does this not play a role in the news content presented to readers? Smartphones also have the ability to track our online behavior, so why don’t readers get notifications through the app when news about their interests breaks?
Here are three location-based scenarios for which content and notifications could be easily developed using existing technologies:
- Let’s say I am frequently pinpointed at Vestas headquarters. It stands to reason that I am probably interested in news about this particular company. I am probably initially interested in news about this particular company
- And if one of my connections from LinkedIn is mentioned in an article, it is probably interesting to me
- Finally, if I am in the beautiful city of Skagen on a summer vacation, local news is probably going to be relevant to me during that period.
Focus area 3: Collaboration on ‘Spotify’ for news
Editor-in-chief at the Danish news outlet Monday Morning, Lisbeth Knudsen, came up with the idea of a new digital platform for journalism as far back as 2016. From my perspective, which is a decidedly digital one, there is no doubt that this is the single most important initiative for journalism. That is, if they wish to stop hemorrhaging readers and start making money again.
A further benefit of a journalism platform will be that, instead of fighting for the same readers (the ones willing to subscribe), a platform with many news sources will activate new paying readers for all that contribute. This will benefit the media, the readers, and our societies – as we need a well-funded fourth estate to fight fake news, keep politicians honest, and ensure the truth always prevails.