News Corp Australia has made a decade-long commitment to growing subscription revenue and putting a value on its journalism. This month it cracked the one million digital subscriber barrier across its titles — not bad in a country of 25 million with multiple strong free sites.
How the Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s news network got to that stage is an object lesson other publishers could learn from, especially the way the newsrooms and journalists have been drawn into a company-wide push to focus on readers, gain trust, and grow revenue.
In an interview for the INMA Newsroom Initiative, Mark Reinke, News Corp Australia’s managing director/consumer, explained six factors he believes allowed the company to succeed so far in its drive to focus on subscription revenue, satisfy customers, and produce trusted journalism.
He admitted to mistakes along the way in that 10-year journey, but it’s clear that the role of newsrooms — and the basic promises of journalism — are at the heart of the programme.
“It’s been a 10-year process to get to one million … . So it’s a wonderful milestone, but it’s not been short-lived [in getting there],” he said. “I think the great skill is determining what you should keep the same and what you should change. And I think in our space, we can learn as much from what we did keep the same as what we changed.”
The News Corp proposition has remained or been reinforced: “We didn’t change the notion of our brands being town squares for their communities. That notion of still being that town square, because trust is central to that, we did not change.”
Six factors to News Corp Australia’s subscription success
- Insights: The newsroom needed new signals and insights about its audience and the will to turn those insights into action. Its Verity platform of news and subscriber analytics was a big part of that.
- A dedicated team to action those insights: An editorially led “Content-led Growth Team” helps editors direct resources and innovation to where readers and subscribers most valued it.
- New content models: Innovation in journalism products meet identified needs and develop new niches, from hyper-local journalism — essential after News Corp Australia shut down some local print titles — to data journalism, and automated journalism, especially in local council, health, and crime.
- New products for new audiences: Innovation in news products is needed for sports lovers, Millennials, and other valuable audience segments that insights showed previously were underserved.
- New pricing tactics: More subtlety is needed around prices offered to different audiences at different times of the year, particularly in sport, as well as dynamic pricing on introductory offers based on consumption habits and timing — all without lowering the overall subscription price.
- Rapid evolution in offering multiple user experience (UX): Serving audiences on whatever device or platform they choose to engage with News Corp Australia brands on is key, as well as doing so efficiently with content management tools that allow publishing once to many outlets.
I reckon the News Corp Australia experience has lessons for publishers everywhere. My takeaways as the lead on the Newsroom Initiative include:
- A “bridge” team of newsroom innovators who led the cultural and technology changes need to focus on readers, turn data into action, and whose focus was still journalistic. “These journalists had a passion for converting insights into actionable newsroom change. So they become the bridge between the commercial part of the bridge of business,” Reinke said.
- A product in all markets: News Corp Australia has a mixed model of subscriptions and open access from a rigid paywall on The Australian, to a “freemium” strategy on its local and regional titles, to free-funded-by-advertising on what is now the country’s largest news site News.com.au.
- Alignment between newsrooms, product, engineering, and the business to eventually get content management systems and tools that allow newsrooms to produce efficiently for many platforms at once — and work with coherent user experiences that meet business goals.
There’s a lot more, but that’s where I think the News Corp Australia approach meshes closely with the best practice we’re looking at through the Newsroom Initiative. For example, Reinke credits staff development through cadetships and a new Digital News Academy for helping drive long-term cultural change through the organisation.
Verity, he says, wasn’t just data, it became a critical resource-allocation tool.
“Ultimately, it became a value optimisation tool for every newsroom,” Reinke said. [An editor can decide] where do I put every reporter? Have I got them in the right places? Do I see the values that I seek as an editor reflected in the value my readers draw from our content?”
The emphasis across the company has been finding a resilient financial model through recurring revenues for sustainable journalism, he says. Digital subscriptions now account for around 50% of overall digital revenue with advertising accounting for the rest.
At the same time, Reinke recognised the value of print, especially for advertisers: “Print remains important from an advertising point of view. It's somewhat resurgent. It's still a very important part of our strategy and for digital subscriptions because it still anchors the trust.”
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