Asahi Shimbun has a daily print circulation of five million in Japan, but these readers are not direct customers. The newspaper delivery network is similar to a car dealership network.
Speaking at the inaugural INMA Asia/Pacific News Media Summit last week, Hiromi Ohniski, Asahi Shimbun’s chief technology officer and managing executive director of ICT engineering and international affairs, shared insights into the 140-year-old company’s current data strategy and its plans for the future.
“We publish the newspaper, but delivery outlets — more than 4,600 delivery outlets nationwide — they have the contract with the subscribers, so the subscribers are their customers,” she said.
In addition to newspapers, the company owns other businesses, such as a music hall in Osaka, and manages several sports events.
In 2011, Asahi launched its digital subscription product and built its first direct relationships with readers. It expanded its customer database in 2018 by collaborating with some of its delivery outlets.
“If the customer and the delivery outlets agree, we get data from our delivery outlets,” Ohniski said. “Almost 10-20% of paper customers are registered in our database.”
Asahi wanted to change how it interacted with customers, shifting from a service-centric model to a customer-centric one to maximise the value of its customers with diversified products and services. Going beyond print or digital subscriptions, the company wanted to leverage data from event attendance or online shopping.
“We want to create the ecosystem where customers want to buy more products and services,” Ohniski said.
When a customer becomes a registered member of Asahi digital, the customer has acquired an ID and Asahi has access to data. The company provides free and paid events, like reporter talk sessions, and track interactions with events and elsewhere, like with e-commerce offers. There are other companies under the Asahi umbrella, such as those creating content for students and offering hobby courses for adults, but Ohniski said they are still disconnected: “We haven’t connected yet, but we are starting to talk about how to link these IDs together.”
For the data the company does have, Ohniski said segmentation by age groups, gender, and news reading tendencies are helping change newsroom culture. The ability to break down topics based on how they are performing with different groups have turned theories into actionable areas of improvement. Five years ago, Ohniski suggested the newsroom create more content for young people entering the workforce.
“Everyone in the media industry complains that younger people don’t read newspapers for news, but there is one period of time college students care about it,” Ohniski said. “When they start preparing for the job interview to get hired.”
The newsroom did not believe this was necessary. Asahi was a general news product aimed at older people, the editorial team said. With data supporting Ohniski’s theory and the newsroom eager to create content to reach these valuable readers, the company now has more subscribers in their teens and 20s.
What’s next for Asahi? The big challenge will be connecting data with shopping and event activity, as well as leveraging data to support advertising efforts.
“So far, we are making small success with newsroom change,” Ohniski said. “But the next is advertising, and e-commerce, and other things — we are going to struggle with it.”