Publish Asia: Trust the new currency... a basis for revenue

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It all comes down to trust, whether it's the differentiating trust readers have in newsmedia, or the belief your social media partner won't change the product terms on which you've built a relationship.

Doing business in the age of the social giants was the recurring theme during at the start of WAN-Ifra's Publish Asia conference in Bali yesterday.

And a variety of strategies were offered. During a workshop the previous day, academic Greg Piechota had even ventured quitting as a viable option, citing US publishers who had sold out to Rupert Murdoch and Jeff Bezos as examples.

Or you could diversify: Singapore Press Holdings deputy chief executive Anthony Tan told of the group's moves into property and healthcare, "in the glory days", Kompas Gramedia was making a business out of logistics to add to its investment in hotels, and for Malaysia's New Straits Times Press, education had proved an attractive vertical.

Earlier Piechota had told how the Polish publisher he had worked had moved into cinemas, making most of its profit from popcorn and drinks.

But while NSTP chief commercial officer Alfian Talib urged publishers to "be bold and explore new things", he counseled that they should be sustainable, relevant and "contribute to the brand".

There were also tips on the generation of native content - The Economist likes to call it "thought leadership" - from the EIU and Damian Bray, founder of the now SPH-owned Brand New Media unit,

Above all however, speakers on the conference opening day stressed the need to build relationships with their reader customers based on the differentiating proposition of trust.

Modelled on one conducted by Australia's NewsMediaWorks in 2016, a new WAN-Ifra/SynoInt survey of readers in Indonesia, South Korea and Singapore had found different levels of trust in the three countries, but newspapers positive in all of them, overwhelmingly so in Singapore.

Opening the conference, WAN-Ifra's chief operating officer Thomas Jacob had told delegates that trust was "the new currency", and the basis on which they should have the confidence to charge for their content.

Audience growth and new sources of revenue had led publishers to be "a bit more upbeat", the group's Asia Pacific chairman Patrick Daniel told about 250 industry delegates. "We must believe that what we produce is valuable - if people will pay for Spotify and similar services, why not ours," he asked.

Even young people were beginning to pay for content, Jacob reported.

And while there was a clear difference of opinion among Indian delegates about what to charge, managing director and chief executive of The Hindu Group Rajiv Lochan told of their success in increasing print cover prices, doubling some over a period of five years to build revenue and profit. A digital subscription, considered "an appropriate path", was also adding members at 1000 a day.

The moves of course, were a response to loss of advertising revenue to social, and after lunch - somewhat appropriately hosted by Facebook - the giant's diminutive news partnerships manager Alice Budisatrijo explained new initiatives for publishers and faced up to questions from moderator Piechota. Facebook was "anxious to support the credibility of quality publishers," she said, but declined to say when a scheme to support publisher subscriptions might come to Asia. There was no timeframe, and no promises, she warned.

An enthusiastic Jonathan Harley - a "recovering journalist" who had worked on '60 Minutes' in Australia - spruiked Twitter's strengths and successes, and managing director of Fairfax Media's Australian metro publishing Chris Janz was back in Asia to talk of his company's growing relationship with Google.

While it was fashionable to blame Google for problems, he said publishers were partly to blame and needed to reassess business models.

The Fairfax partnership had created opportunities to sell inventory to smaller businesses who were priced out by the cost of "high touch" sales models, with the transactional element now more automated.

The relationship had led to "deep conversations" with the search giant and Fairfax was working with them on future developments.

"It's in Google's interests for us to thrive," he says, urging publishers to "get into conversation".

Google's own team take the floor this morning with a breakfast briefing, and the conference continues with more on business transformation and models, and parallel sessions on premium print, brand building, products to engage Gen X to Z, and journalist security, and finally ideas on using AI and smart data to improve audience engagement.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Chris Janz (right) with Greg Piechota

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