Editors around the world have been confronted with many questions since the start of digital transformation in our industry. Among them are fundamental questions such as: Will print die? Which will people choose: digital or print?

Netwerk24, an Afrikaans news Web site in South Africa, is testimony to the irrelevance of these questions. Since its inception in 2014, this news Web site has gone from strength to strength, steadily growing the biggest paywall in the country and cleverly using trusted printed brands to do so without alienating loyal readers.

The secret behind its success is a focus on quality journalism to build a digital news service, as well as consolidating trusted print brands on one digital platform.

A slow and steady newsroom transformation that started in 2014 brought digital and print journalists together into a single, digital-first team behind the Netwerk24 digital news service.
A slow and steady newsroom transformation that started in 2014 brought digital and print journalists together into a single, digital-first team behind the Netwerk24 digital news service.

In 2014, Media24, an affiliate of Naspers, took the bold move to close down the individual Web sites of the Afrikaans newspapers Rapport, Beeld, Die Burger, and Volksblad and consolidate them on the new Netwerk24 digital platform.

The next step was to appoint a small but dedicated team of journalists to work digital first alongside the print newspaper reporters. Then in 2016, the digital and print journalists were integrated to form one national digital-first newsroom. Thereafter, subscriptions grew at US$7 per month, while print subscribers had free access to Netwerk24.

Then followed a next bold move. At the end of 2017, 11 trusted and loved Afrikaans magazine brands and more than 30 local newspapers merged on the Netwerk24 platform under the slogan: “Everything in one place.”

Every magazine brand was given visibility on the Netwerk24 home page, showcasing everything on offer at a glance. Subscribers were given access to news and a portfolio of magazine content — digital and in PDF format — at US$7 per month.

Results:

  • Digital subscriptions grew from 28,535 in January 2018 to 44,017 in December 2018 — an increase of 54%.
  • Including newspaper print subscribers, the active premium subscriber base grew to 58,368 in a market of only 4.9 million.
  • Monthly unique browsers grew by 19% to 1.6 million (January 2017 versus January 2018, Google Analytics).
  • Monthly pageviews grew by 41% to 13.6 million (January 2017 versus January 2018, Google Analytics).
  • Unique browsers of the app, the platform with the most engaged audience, increased by 26% to 57,264 by December 2018 (Narratiive).
  • The app has an astonishing frequency of 35.97 (Narratiive). Users spend more than 20 minutes per day in the app. Average daily unique browsers in app generate more pageviews than desktop and mobile combined.
  • As conversion drivers, magazine content is punching above its weight. From July to December 2018, Huisgenoot only contributed 4.8% to the content pool, converting at a rate of 21.7%. SARIE contributed 1.8% but drove 6.3% of all subscriptions.

In addition, a regional edition of one of the daily newspapers, Die Burger Oos-Kaap, changed frequency from a print daily to a weekly print edition with daily PDF versions available on Netwerk24.

Netwerk24 has become a digital Afrikaans media outlet with 30 print newspapers and 11 magazines in Afrikaans.
Netwerk24 has become a digital Afrikaans media outlet with 30 print newspapers and 11 magazines in Afrikaans.

The result of this digital migration? Close to 90% of all print subscribers were retained with around 40% choosing the digital option. This move successfully migrated an older audience — more than 70% were 65+ years old!

The digital migration project was one of the most complicated and comprehensive plans executed in the history of Media24. It required integration on all levels, from CMS and workflow to paywall integration across multiple sites with single sign-on.

“Our most important target is to secure a digital future for quality journalism in Afrikaans,” says Editor Henriëtte Loubser. “In the end, it doesn’t matter whether people read in print or on digital. What is important is that we offer them unique and relevant journalism in their mother tongue. That is what we are building. It is not always easy and we frequently have to navigate the unknown. However, the privilege to be part of this pioneering effort encourages our journalists to continuously learn new skills and to exceed all expectations.”