In the news media business, there is a lot of discussion about how to reach young potential subscribers. The whole industry has, and still is, gradually shifting toward putting more content behind the paywall.
Many publishers have experienced great success in the early days of the paid digital subscription model. Some of this success can be linked to the early subscribers using the brands while the content was available for free and thereby knowing the price would be worth it when they were asked to pay. In many cases, this awareness developed over many years with daily usage.
With younger subscribers, this awareness has not had the same opportunity to grow as they were too young to build habits with consuming content before most digital payment models were implemented. In addition, they are less willing to pay for editorial content to gain that awareness than older age groups.
So, what could be a solution?
The hypothesis was that partly removing the paywall could be a solution, but not without a commitment from the younger age groups. As we searched for different solutions, we found an innovative model to solve the issue. Narrowing the younger age group we wanted to target to students opened up a possibility of a win-win case through sponsored content access.
Hosting a win-win cooperation
Norway has approximately 250,000 students with a yearly circulation of around 40,000 starting and leaving their studies every year. During the first phase of the project, we realised the news media business is not the only industry struggling to reach students. The schools have very strict and limited options for commercial content. And the channels available are most often flooded, making it difficult to stand out.
Our hypothesis was we could help companies get targeted access to the students through a partnership.
Creating goodwill and building a brand in the student segment for potential employers and suppliers of relevant goods is a position most companies are willing to pay for. Students, on the other hand, have a low willingness to pay for news; however, they are both interested in consuming media content and reliant on using reliable news sources as a supplement to most studies.
As we searched for a potential payment model for the student segment, we found this answered our hypothesis of a partnership through sponsorship. This would solve the need for both the suppliers and employers — and for the students.
Through an IP-controlled access point on the wireless student network, students could have free access to Schibsted’s news content. This was paid for by a sponsor that was given IP-controlled displays of targeted ads telling the students who logged in that they were able to access paid content because the sponsor had already paid for it.
The project went live in 2016. We formed partnerships with a couple of colleges and universities in Norway to partly open our content to their students. These partnerships included full digital access to our four subscription news sites: Aftenposten, Bergens Tidende, Stavanger Aftenblad, and Fædrelandsvennen. Aftenposten is a national brand, the others are regional.
Through the first sponsorships, students got full access to the locked content via the wireless student network that every student is logged into. When the students are on campus, they just have to go to one of the four news sites and log in. The students could then read paid content for free while the sponsors got their custom-made messages displayed to the students logged on through the wireless student network.
Speeding up and refining
Since our initial testing with a couple of schools in 2016, we have scaled up and now have partnership agreements with 12 of the largest universities and colleges in Norway. With these partnerships, we cover around 45% of the total student mass in Norway. In the schools we have had the longest partnerships with, around 80% of students have logged in to one or more of Schibsted’s news sites. The average monthly reading has grown over the past two years.
We are currently working on making more long-term deals with both campuses and sponsors, and we are experiencing a truly win-win situation for all parties. Students get free access, sponsors can target the desired segment, and Schibsted’s news sites are building reading habits among future paying subscribers.