Mittmedia’s innovative “soft-lock,” a one-hour-free timewall, has enabled the Swedish news publisher to shift from freemium to a more lucrative premium content distribution model.
At the same time, Zurich-based mobile-first news start-up Republik is thoroughly infused with an entrepreneur’s acceptance of risk, as it transitions from crowdfunded seed money to community-based financial sustainability.
The connection between those and three other case studies presented Monday at INMA’s Media Innovation Week, was their unconventional approaches to what it means to be a news medium today.
Mittmedia’s 60-minute paywall approach
Thomas Sundgren, head of Mittmedia/Reacher Solutions, said his company’s paywall brainstorm came from a particular data observation:
“Only 20% of acquired (subscription) customers are acquired in the first 60 minutes. The vast majority are acquired during the rest of the time (that a piece of content is available). So in effect, that means the paid content business is the long-tail business model.”
So now today, almost all of the articles and media on Mittmedia’s 19 news sites throughout Sweden are freely available for only the first hour after publication. After that, they automatically become premium content, accessible only with a paid subscription. Site visitors see a countdown clock for how much time remains in an article’s “test read” period.
To an inevitable audience question, Sundgren said, “If you’re asking if people will try to read through all of our content in the first hour, no, we have not seen that.”
Instead, he said that this “soft-lock” strategy has led to a 20% increase in the subscriber conversion rate — the number of people who choose to pay to continue reading.
Republik goes for ongoing user payments
Republik’s conversion goal is somewhat different, explained Managing Director Miriam Walther.
Having launched in 2018 with US$2.4 million in seed funding — raised in a record-breaking two weeks from hundreds of supporters — the Swiss digital magazine on politics, economy, society, and culture has now reached the point where 72.5% of its day-to-day operational needs are covered by ongoing payments from its more than 18,000 active users, Walther said.
The struggle has brought a mix of positive and negative experiences.
On the upside, she said, the publication has enjoyed higher quality, independence, transparency, and community involvement. Republik publishes one to three articles per day, Monday through Saturday. Walther also cited the iterative development process the company has been able to pursue, emphasising data protection and fostering new habits among staff and readers.
Interestingly, those habits were also mentioned on Walther’s list of downsides, as traditionally print-oriented staff adapt to digital media.
“We have to deal with habits from centuries,” she said.
She also mentioned the time pressures, noting that “everything happens at the same time in a start-up,” and said the team had to resist the urge to do too much too quickly, a tendency she called “projectitis.”
But chief among the negatives she listed were the uncertainty and stress of constantly being on the edge of failure, like any fledgling entrepreneurial enterprise.
“As a start-up, we are a high-risk project,” Walther said. “We can die at any time.” The resulting stress on employees can be debilitating, she added.
Other case studies
As for the other unconventional projects profiled in Monday’s session:
Die Zeit’s Z2X Festivals for Visionaries target young people who have ideas and the desire to share them, providing both encouragement and a venue for that to happen.
“As you know, young people will expect more today from a major digital news publication than just digital news,” said Natalie Wuebbolt, Project Lead Z2X-Festival.
Onet.pl’s campaign to unite Poland around the country’s 100th anniversary in 2018 continues now with an effort to encourage Poles to keep bridging their differences.
“Marketing is not about being different. I believe marketing is actually about making a difference,” said Olga Korolec of Ringier Axel Springer. “The most significant outcome (of this strategy) is that for the first time, in Reuters, we were judged as the most credible news medium in Poland.”
Russmedia’s various interactive gatherings — all flavoured with what they call the Vorarlberger way — is mainly about getting different groups of people from their Austrian communities in a room together to talk openly to each other.
“Our main goal is to bring the whole region together,” said Georg Burtscher, managing director of Russmedia Digital. “You need special formats to have 100% openness where you can feel free to talk.”