Recently, different publishers in Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) have launched a new subscription formula. This formula offers access to news instead of a bundle of news. You don’t get to read or download a newspaper, but you are able to read the great stories and journalism they contain.

This is taking the commercial model of publishing a step further once more. These publishers are convinced the market is ready for a new proposition, because of two phenomena.

Publications such as De Volkskrant are experimenting with new bundled models.
Publications such as De Volkskrant are experimenting with new bundled models.

First, we’re seeing a breakthrough in streaming platforms like subscription video on demand (SVOD) and the success of paid subscriptions on music platforms. News media were always interested in how they could profit from this consumer trend.

In addition, a lot of news Web sites are publishing paid content and dedicating an increasing amount of real estate to it. This may be content from today’s newspaper or fresh, “digital-first” content. Whatever paywall model is used, the percentage of paid news is on the rise.

Until now, newspapers of Mediahuis and De Persgroep have been marketing this content with a classic subscription to the newspaper. It was about time to start thinking of new ways to give visitors access to this content instead of pushing them toward a newspaper they might not even want.

Publishers had to return to the basics of their business and deconstruct the product offer. The publication is being replaced by mere access to journalism. Linear reading from a front page to the end is no longer required.

The cycle of bundling news once or twice a day and then releasing it might still be of vital importance to a newsroom, but this isn’t necessarily the case for every reader that passes by — and certainly not the young ones. They are used to reading in feeds, reacting to triggers and nudges, and consuming news on the go. A broadsheet doesn’t belong at the breakfast table of digital natives. To them, the new monetary unit is the article instead of the bundle. Just like the song instead of the album.

If publishers succeed in responding more adequately to their needs, it might just be possible to also make young readers more willing to pay, adding them to the paid audience. Considering the average subscription age I came across (55-65 years), every publishing company would gladly welcome this group.

Using the streaming subscription model is a new practice in newsrooms, so publishers are currently experimenting with price points.
Using the streaming subscription model is a new practice in newsrooms, so publishers are currently experimenting with price points.

As we are regular visitors to each other’s online product pages, it’s quite remarkable De Persgroep and Mediahuis (the two largest publishing houses in The Netherlands and Belgium) are launching similar products at the same time. We must be great minds that think alike. In The Netherlands, De Volkskrant’s “digital basic” offers complete access to paid articles on the Web site and in the apps. In Belgium, popular media like Het Nieuwsblad, Het Laatste Nieuws, and quality newspaper De Morgen did the same in the space of one week.

How about pricing? We see a little variation between the titles:

De Volkskrant gives access for €2.50 per week; Nieuwsblad offers the same at €10 per month. Most of us are probably looking at the monthly rates for Spotify and Netflix as a reference to set our own price, but there is room for testing: Het Laatste Nieuws is testing prices between €4.95 and €7.95 for its “digital basis.”

Being a brand-new product, the prize sensitivity still has to be determined. Publishers aren’t very keen on cannibalising too much on the existing portfolio, and I think the price level will probably be around €5 cheaper than the digital newspaper subscription.

Whatever it will be, it seems the value proposition of this offer is concentrated on content (access to paid articles). To me, that seems like a sound strategy and a promising start.