Spain has not yet joined the unstoppable wave experienced by news organisations in the rest of Europe and North America.
There are several reasons why news media companies in Spain are still anchored in a traditional model of mass audiences and low revenues coming from advertising. The main reason is having a language spoken by almost 600 million human beings has become a dangerous trap. In the last decade, we have focused on Latin America (including the United States), where we are able to obtain huge audience numbers in the most diverse ways. But I think we have all finally given up on the attempt to turn these audiences into a source of sustainable business.
Currently, only a couple of regional publishing groups, Vocento and Prensa Ibérica, have a digital subscription model. However, both are in a very preliminary phase in which most of the content is still open.
There is a case in which the economic contribution of users seems to be key in the company’s income. This is Eldiario.es, although it doesn’t exactly have a paywall. There is a model of editorial adhesion where users do not pay to continue reading but to ensure journalists continue to do their job properly.
All this will change very quickly. 2018 was the year when the large Spanish publishing groups realised the long-term sustainability of the business means abandoning strategies of huge volumes of low audience value and the power of putting the user at the centre of the equation. This is done by sharing better content that serves and is truly useful for readers, as well as creating a user experience that does not turn the act of reading a story into a heroic mission.
The speed, intensity, and formats that will mark the standard of the market will probably be defined by Prisa (Elpais) and Unedisa (Elmundo and sports giant Marca), especially marked by the steps the first one takes.
In 2002, Elpais tried to create a paywall, which was a great failure. In addition, Elpais has made major investments in Latin America in recent years, with large newsrooms in Mexico and Sao Paulo. It bought the CMS Arc from The Washington Post, and the company has given itself five years to create a new sustainable business model. Therefore, the turnaround for the company’s business strategy may be slow.
The rest of the players will start taking steps very soon. Some, in fact, have already started, because, without a doubt, 2019 will be the year that changes everything.