These are challenging times in revenue and monetisation for most news publishers, said Onyinyechi Eze, head of digital services at Business Day in Nigeria. Although Business Day is at the mature stage with its print media in terms of sales, it is still at the growth stage for digital.
“We’re seeing that print media is going through a decline now, but it’s still big revenue for us as publishers,” Eze said. “It’s forecasted that it will further decline through 2024.”
In response, Business Day adopted a digital-first strategy that was distributed to all staff for buy-in. Two key teams — editorial and technology — were merged to drive the change needed. The publishing cycle was revised from 12 hours to 24 hours, and stories were enriched with multimedia elements such as photos, charts, audio, etc.
Non-editorial teams began producing digital content as digital journalists, and data journalism was embraced. A new circulation strategy led to distribution channels and content marketing.
“We came up with an airtight strategy that would bring value to our customers,” Eze explained. “In terms of our infrastructure, what we really started to look at were key points. We looked at what customers want, and we understood that Web and mobile are really the key players where we need to play in.”
Creating a new infrastructure
The Business Day newsroom digital infrastructure consisted of:
Digital platforms based on the digital-first strategy.
Digital channels to distribute to a wider audience to create a larger community, with use of social, push notifications, and e-mail marketing.
Publishing tools were an integral part of the strategy, with the need for collaborative and process-driven software leading to the adaptation of several AI-powered tools.
Partnership with a subscription management provider based on payment acceptance, dynamic paywall models, renewals, audience segmentation, personalisation, and more.
Customer engagement was key, and customer support systems were implemented including live chat, ticketing apps, IP calls, and social chats.
Performance metrics were monitored in real-time through dashboards in the newsroom, improving content quality and strategy.
“We now started looking at the mindset,” Eze said. “So we merged these teams, and we wanted them to be fully invested in the strategy and keep up.”
This meant keeping employees involved in the digital-first strategy, becoming more involved with associations such as INMA and the Poynter Institute, building cross-functional team collaborations, conducting ongoing training, and creating process flows and guides.
“Then everything started to fall into place,” Eze said. The team began to focus on how to monetise these digital strategies.
Leading the charge
A reader revenue subscription model is relatively new in Nigeria, and Business Day was one of the first to roll this out. When developing this model, the team looked inward at the company’s mission and took a holistic view of how to generate revenue.
In addition to digital subscriptions, Business Day monetised conferences and other events through sponsorship and ticket sales, began offering corporate subscriptions, and bundled print with digital. They also created valuable partnerships and affiliate relationships.
They focused on their key target audiences, conducting surveys and focus groups, to discover what their needs and interests were.
Associations and institutes
“We looked for how we can monetise what we do,” Eze said. “Places that we didn’t originally see as a monetisation unit, we started to see how those could actually fit inside our digital strategy.”
Changes in advertising offerings
Apart from the reader revenue subscription model, Business Day also infused its advertising offerings with digital, focused on B2B and conferences, and developed its legal business with revenue-producing reports. Through it all, collecting and analysing data brought more insight into the strategy.
“Through all this we’re able to come up with real, key, actionable steps on how we can get revenue within the newsroom. It really doesn’t rely on just one way.”
As far as the Web site paywall, Business Day took a dynamic and hybrid approach. This combined a freemium paywall where 40% of articles are behind a metered paywall, and a reader must pay after eight articles. The dynamic aspect included personalisation and analysing reader behaviours and their willingness to pay.
“Diverse strategies meant we were really able to meet our audiences,” Eze said.
The team also built an agile, strategic approach to digital marketing, planning and optimising digital channels against defined targets, SMART KPIs, and a focused investment in content marketing, digital media, and experiences.
“It’s discovering what your audience wants, reaching out to them with different channels and marketing ploys,” Eze said. “We started to act, and really infuse them into what we’re doing with our landing pages. When we understand what they want, we are able to convert them.”
Additional revenue streams implemented included advertising, magazines, affiliate revenue-sharing, and premium newsletters. The result of this digital-first strategy was a digital subscription growth of 40% in a one-year period, with digital revenue growth of 244%.
“It has been an amazing journey, and with this model and the strategies we have adopted, we have really seen great success.”