The recipe has been more or less the same for the past 100 years: Every day, the news media is fighting to get the readers converted to a monthly subscription model – just as they always have done. These are today the two decisive parameters for news media to stay in business with the advertising revenues.
But there is just one big problem!
The readers do not want inconvenient and non-transparent subscription models and will not subscribe to multiple media that cover the same news categories. Historically it has been possible to subscribe to a single newspaper, which you could identify with, which covered your news need. But in the digital age, the number of news media and niches have exploded, and the media profiles vs. reader segments are not as well defined as it used to be.
This is why it is the media’s most important task to challenge its deeply outdated business model. Instead, the media should start focusing on making their services attractive to the readers in a digital context.
From my perspective, it looks like this:
“The media is like behemoths on square wheels, who are 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 is 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 Megafon market survey that among other things, documents that 66 percent of the Danes do not pay for a newspaper subscription, and that more than every third Dane got annoyed when clicking on a clickbait article.
On the one hand, these figures illustrate the paradox that the media continue to subscriptions as the only purchase option, although many do not want it. On the other hand, the survey showed that a large part of the 66 percent is actually willing to pay for news.
Thus, a large customer segment can be activated through new, digital, and ambitious business models that more closely match the wishes and needs of the readers. However, this requires the media to look away from payment walls, click-bait articles, and other initiatives, which all aim to entice the readers into the subscription trap. Instead, they must think radically new and make use of the opportunities and the knowledge, which they can get from the people who know something about online sales and webshop conversions, about digital marketing, about app-design and in-app purchases, about artificial intelligence and other new technologies, about effective customer journeys, and of course, about business model development in a digital world.
3 necessary focus areas on the road to digital success
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 that have made the journey difficult and unattractive to the users so far. Subscriptions are for many readers a ‘no go’, so the media should test other end destinations in the customer journey. For example, it could be ‘pay as you go’ solutions where you can buy access to a single article, selected sections, etc. It could also be that you should go one step further, and as part of a ‘pay as you go’ solution, give the money back if the reader is not satisfied with the article.
As inspiration, the Amazon company Audible, who sell audiobooks, offer a friction-free full refund, if a book is not satisfactory to the listener. I.e. they remove an vital barrier to purchase.
Here I have included 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 of the other Danish media. This means that many potential customers will not convert – even if they are sincerely interested. And if it afterward turns out, that the customer’s trigger to purchase was click-bait, the frustration gets enormous. Newspapers ruin the customer journey with their approach – but thankfully, it is easy to redeem!
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)
All of this removes barriers to convert visitors to paying subscribers. And at the same time, it shows the newspaper’s willingness to retain the reader with good journalism rather than contractual obligations in monthly subscriptions.
Focus area 2: Own disruption – with new technology that runs
The next focus area is about looking inwards as a media and asking the question: ‘How can we, with the articles and data that we already have, use new technologies to make ourselves more attractive among the readers?’
With cloud technologies, apps, and in-app payment, location technologies, artificial intelligence, etc., the media has every opportunity to make themselves far more present and relevant to the users.
When the mobile phone knows where we are, why does this not play a role in the news content presented to the reader? And why does the reader not get a notification through the app when there is news about your interests, which is revealed through your behavior?
Here are three small examples of site-based content and notifications that can be easily developed with these existing technologies:
- If I am often in Vestas headquarters, I am probably initially interested in news about this particular company
- If one of my connections from LinkedIn is mentioned in an article, it is probably interesting to me
- And if I am in the beautiful city of Skagen on a summer vacation, local news is probably relevant during that period
Focus area 3: Collaboration on ‘Spotify’ for news
In the music industry, digital sales of music arose in the in the 00’s. The turning point was to mitigate illegal digital copying. This has evolved into a variety of platforms for streaming music, such as Spotify or Deezer. Similarly, a platform for journalism will become the most important groundwork in the future business models of news media.
Editor-in-chief at the Danish media Monday Morning, Lisbeth Knudsen, already in 2016 came up with the idea of a new digital platform for journalism. From my digital perspective, there is no doubt that this is the single most important initiative for journalism to turn around declining readers, and start making money again.
A further benefit of a journalism platform is that instead of the media fighting for the same users (the ones willing to subscribe to a newspaper), a platform with many news sources will activate new paying readers. This will benefit both the media, the readers, and our societies – as we need well-funded newspapers to fight fake news, uncover political spins etc.