Like most news publishers today, The Standard has had to diversify its revenue model and create new revenue streams in addition to advertising.
“Around the world we’ve seen a drop in ad revenue,” said Jared Kidambi, head of reader revenue for the Kenyan news media company. He attributed this largely to the low CPMs from social media, Big Tech platforms, and free online advertising.
“At the end of the day, you can have millions of visitors on your platforms, but the revenue you’re getting doesn’t really make sense,” he said.
Creating a new strategy
At the same time, the production costs of a print newspaper are still fixed. The Standard Group had to figure out how to remain afloat in this environment. The team had three main objectives:
Grow direct relationships with Standard readers.
Diversify revenue channels.
Provide relevant content and value to the audience.
“We decided to move away from focusing on pageviews and clicks,” Kidambi said.
To capitalise on a new reader revenue strategy, the team established seven pillars that were necessary for success:
Registration and paywalls.
In July 2020, users were able to register directly on The Standard platform to read premium content for the first time. This premium product is called The Standard Insider. By October 2020, the team began experimenting with a hard paywall on The Nairobian Web site, and a freemium model on The Standard that allowed users to read 15 articles before registration was required.
“By January of this year, we decided to set an audacious target of attaining at least 900,000 registered users,” Kidambi said. “As of today, we have over 800,000 registered users on our platform, and we are certain by the end of the year we will be able to attain the 900,000 that we set.”
The team continues to experiment with the freemium model, and in April 2021 redesigned the digital platforms to fit The Standard’s strategy of providing content that really matters to its readers. They conducted a lot of reader surveys to build the content strategy.
Kidambi outlined the actual execution steps the team undertook:
Converged content acquisition and dissemination.
Unified log-in across all digital assets.
Experimented with different reader revenue models.
Drove traffic to the Web site through various channels.
Embedded data and analytics at the core of editorial decision-making, with a focus on the reader.
Focused on understanding the casual, loyal, and brand lover readers, and the journey to convert a brand lover to a paying user.
Upselling subscription plans.
Lessons learned — and shared
He acknowledged that The Standard encountered some challenges in this process that other news media might also come up against. First, not all paywall models work for all audiences.
“What may work for an audience in South Africa or Nigeria won’t necessarily work for Kenyan audiences. You have to really understand your user, to spend a lot of time going through the data that has been collected around them.”
The users’ preferred method of payment also presented an obstacle. In Kenya, most subscribers prefer mobile money — which does not offer auto-renewal. This results in added expenditure in the budget to continually convince users to renew their subscriptions.
Lastly, paying for content online is a new concept for the majority of Kenyans.
“If you really want to implement a paywall, just start,” Kidambi advised. “There’s no right time. Once you start, from there you are able to learn your audience, learn what truly works for you. Then, you’re able to implement as you grow.”
He recommended setting a stretch target of at least three years, experimenting as much as possible, and making your audience the core of your paywall strategy.
Additionally, invest in targeted marketing and great customer service, stick with the Web site channel that gives the highest conversion, and optimise for it.