3 media companies share different lessons in reader revenue wins

By Josefin Olevik

Stockholm, Sweden


Many media companies are trying to find that unique extra something that can add to the growth. 

INMA invited three of them to tell their story at its Media Subscriptions Summit last week in Stockholm.

Schibsted puts podcasts behind its paywall

Podme is a young and fast-growing podcast-platform, of which Schibsted owns 90%. The Scandinavian media company has a history of making podcasts but has not really found a way to capitalise on them.

Difficulties include that advertisers ask for personalised messages from pod-hosts in their own voices, which many news journalists have a problem with. Advertisers are also concerned about context, so big investigations or true crime podcasts are not always a pleasant place to market their product.

Podme has 100,000 subscribers in Norway, of which 50% are younger than 35 years old.
Podme has 100,000 subscribers in Norway, of which 50% are younger than 35 years old.

“At the same time, we realised listeners get a very close connection to the hosts,” said Kristin Heimdal, country manager at Podme. “You might go to a live pod-show, buy merch, made the listening a part of your daily routine.”

Depending on this expected loyalty from their listeners, Schibsted decided to put all the Norwegian podcasts behind a paywall in Podme and created a bundling offer.

“Not only did we take our own produced podcasts, we also stole three of the biggest ones in Norway from other media houses,” Heimdal said. “So far it goes really, really well.”

Podme has 100,000 subscribers in Norway, of which 50% are younger than 35 years old. The plan is to expand the project to Sweden and Finland.

Gannett focuses on 4 areas of premium content

Amalie Nash is senior vice president for local news and audience development at Gannett, which has picked out unique offerings from its newsroom to attract subscribers.

Gannett owns 200 local newspapers in the United States and has more tha 200 million subscribers. 

“We had different strategies, but decided to go for premium content, putting 10%-15% behind paywall,” Nash said. “As we noticed 35% of our subscribers got in direct from premium, we have concentrated on making that work even better.”

Gannett found its content trends through experimentation.
Gannett found its content trends through experimentation.

The company now has four focus areas for its premium content:

  • Restaurants and dining.

  • Where to go and what to find.

  • Crime and cold cases.

  • Real estate and the housing market.

One interesting popular offering is high school sports. Gannett realised it didn’t have any competitors in this area, though a lot of people are interested in it. The company now has created a system for covering high school sports and is trying to develop it into more of storytelling offering instead of just the expected information.

“Overall an important learning is that our digital readers are not that different from our paper readers,” Nash said. “Initially we thought so, but that´s not the way.”

Today 20% of the digital readers are paying for content. Gannett is not sure where the roof is on that figure but does know it is not there yet.

444 shares lessons from losing 70% of its revenue

The story of Hungarian 444.hu is different than others presented on the Stockholm stage and is a lot about politics. Gábor Kardos, CEO of the Hungarian media company, shared his lessons learned in membership and thoughts on freedom of the press.

The 444.hu rose from another news company in 2013 that was overtaken for political reasons. Because of this, it started with a lot of good will from readers and the public, and reached three million of Hungary’s nine million residents.

The big problem though, was the revenue economy was build on advertising. And when COVID came, they lost 70% of the revenue. Bam.

“We didn’t really have a promise and I didn’t have the technique, but we had a strong loyalty from our readers,” Kardos said. “We gave them our bank account number, and they paid.

It was a start, and what those readers gave was a one time amount. But 444.hu started to learn some things along the road.

“We introduced ‘The Circle,’ a membership club,” Kardos said. “There was a strong cause: People wanted free media.”

444 had to keep going back to its readers, and its readers kept donating.
444 had to keep going back to its readers, and its readers kept donating.

The journey has been long and sometimes stressful. It has forced forward the media company´s skills in digital, paywalls, and subscriptions. Advertising is still a base for the economy, and 444.hu has picked and mixed from other media houses and their solutions.

A payment structure was put in place just a few months ago, and today the company has 21,000 subscribers — and keeps growing.

“We had to ask our readers for economical support more than once, though we had promised them it was only a one time favour. The last donation we asked for was actually to build the paywall. But they contributed. They are very loyal, and of course we do everything we can to give them free journalism back.”

About Josefin Olevik

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