eSummit: Engaging with quotes... and catching up with print subscriptions

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It's a long road ahead if you compare - as they do at Schibsted - digital subscriptions with print ones.

But that's the course set by consumer business director Bård Skaar Viken, speaking at yesterday's virtual Asian Media Leaders eSummit.

A chart of Europe - he doesn't have Asia Pacific to show - indicates what might be cultural differences: That with subscription rates of 27 and 42 in Norway and Sweden, Scandinavians are more used to paying for news than readers in the UK, where the rate is seven per cent, for example.

Schibsted's first paid content model - for Aftonbladet in 2003 - took ten years to establish, and Viken says it's "still early days compared to print". At 750,000 paying readers, he says the rate is "still only 60% of print levels".

He shows a graph to chart what's been happening this year, with strong growth in numbers and revenue. "The shift from ads to subscriptions is happening quickly at the moment," he says. "But it's mostly about ads going down."

He urges delegates to find the right model, obsess about small data, cheerfully pay up for data capabilities - "costly, but worth it" - but make journalism and premium content priority 1, 2 and 3.

Introducing the session, WAN-Ifra Asia director Joon-Nie Lau remarked that a 20-year free rise was coming to an end, while moderator Valérie Arnould (in France) urged delegates to "experiment with models until you find the right one".

Despite the 250,000 digital subscribers, Lynn D'Cruz said Malaysiakini still had to move carefully. "There's still quite a fierce perception that we are anti-establishment," she said.

She urged delegates, to "know where you want to go," crafting the reader experience accordingly.

And frankly admits, "I didn't realise what our churn rate was until someone came in and showed it to us.

That would be one for Jill Nicholson (pictured) who weighed in from what I hope was a cosy Brooklyn fireside at one in the morning, local time. The Chartbeat senior director of customer education brought insights to "the next stage of the pandemic" from reader engagement, having tracked customers' 65 billion pages in a month with natural language processing to identify COVID stories.

From which she could identify whether journalists were creating the amount of content people were looking for, and the point at which they got fatigued, while others were surprised that so much else was getting attention.

With so much bad news, Nicholson - a former newspaper designer - admits, "I'd be locked in my room crying to my cats if it weren't for those upbeat stories, but need to learn how we do them."

Watch out for a round-up of most engaging stories - they'll be the ones with more quotations driving scroll depth - at the end of the year.

Peter Coleman

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