Contrarian is not a word Daily Maverick marketing manager Sarah Koopman uses lightly.
But it fits the story of the South African news website that made the unusual path from digital print. And when recalling the results that followed.
“Historically, there have been concerns that when publications expand from print to digital, their print audience will see a decline,” she says in an INMA Ideas blog post. “In Daily Maverick’s expansion from digital to print, we witnessed the opposite, with a growth of 20 per cent in our online audience in the first three months of launching.”
She says the digital-only, investigative long-form news outlet based in Cape Town, South Africa, had made a habit of contrarian moves over its decade of existence.
“The launch of our weekly print publication was no different.”
Paid-for titles had seen circulation fall over recent years, although free-distribution publications were performing strongly when the paper Daily Maverick 168 launched late last September with a 25,000 weekly circulation.
“Aligned with our policy that good journalism is a public service that should be free to all who wish to access it, the Daily Maverick website operates without a paywall, and this is a principle that we strove to continue with the launch of a weekly newspaper,” she says.
Apart from finding an audience for a quality free title produced by experienced journalists, the publisher wanted to “reignite” the weekend reading ritual, enabling people to engage with quality journalism and a beautiful visual identity.
And find a sustainable business model that would enable them to do so.
Partnering with a national food retailer which had more than eight million registered loyalty programme members delivered an instant circulation, shoppers able to swipe their loyalty card and get a free copy or alternatively, pay the cover price of US$1.37. “This allowed us to provide the newspaper for free and rely on advertising as a revenue stream,” says Koopman.
By the end of January, circulation had increased 32 per cent to 33,000, with a “low-average” return rate of 16 per cent.
Koopman says the publication has already met its break-even target on two editions and is well-positioned for good growth in 2021 as new advertisers come on board.
From a content perspective, it was important to take into account the weekly nature of the newspaper, incorporating the biggest stories of the week and previously unpublished investigations. “For readers, this newspaper would be about reigniting the lost ritual of the weekend read, something that came up strongly in our one-on-one discussions with our team and readers,” she says.
While historically, moving from print to digital had resulted in a fall in print audience, Daily Maverick’s expansion from digital to print saw the opposite, with a growth of 20 per cent in its online audience in the first three months after its launch, as well as a rise in weekend traffic, year-on-year.
“We have managed to leverage our strong, experienced editorial team, and we focused on building a team of young, talented designers to curate a world-class visual experience,” she says.