Digital Subscription Gold in the Aussie Outback
Overview of this campaign
News Regional Media has been a digital subscriptions juggernaut for News Australia. Its 18 paywalls over daily titles has had the fastest percentage growth News’ Australian division for the past 2+ years.
But it was a different story in non-daily and community paper land. Dozens of titles, many one-man operations, in places so remote they were literally in the outback.
As the advertising revenue squeeze went on titles with no cover price, several closed. More were precarious.
Digital subscriptions offered a lifeline, but would enough people in these places pay, and how on earth could the tech, editorial and marketing investment be justified in towns of barely 1000? Building and running 17 new paywalls would be a major drain.
We needed to prove people would pay for the journalism; while solving a tech problem, and convince journalists a digital future was their salvation.
It started with five small community titles, in an area west of Brisbane called the Surat Basin – tiny towns in the outback, hundreds of kilometres from any city centre.
We used the paywalled websites of the nearest daily titles as hosts for Surat’s Premium locked stories.
The first story was written by a cadet journalist in Dalby; a moving story about a woman who read her own eulogy in a pre-prepared video. It had sold four subscriptions by its second day.
Soon, stories written in these small outback communities were selling subscriptions around the State.
The trial was then widened to 17 mastheads.
In the meantime, the tech team was finding a solution to the work needed on multiple websites: One wall, with 17 different shopfronts, reducing the tech/product, editorial and marketing requirements significantly. As a reader logged in, the shopfront changed dynamically to their local title – the Noosa News, the Central Telegraph, The Ballina Shire Advocate and so on.
But it then meant we needed to launch 17 paywalls on the same day and convince wary executives that there was life in their smallest products.
It was Mission Impossible -- sell digital subscriptions when your mastheads have no paywall.
Results for this campaign
The results have been astounding.
The initial team of nine reporters in the outback generated more than $60,000 in non-budgeted digital revenue in weeks.
The business then hired a second expert to share the load across all non-dailies. The same thing happened. The best of the regional reporters’ work went on the most relevant daily title, and people kept signing up. Within weeks, another 1000 subs were sold.
Convinced we were on a winner, the tick was given to the tech solution – one wall, 17 shopfronts. It worked seamlessly.
In six weeks, 1200 new active digital subscribers were added to NRM’s 110,000 subscriber base. The non-daily total since July 1, 2019, is now well in excess of 2500.
We expect close to 5000 new subscribers this financial year.
For the reader and company, there were more bonuses. Readers got access to the best Premium stories written by News’ top writers in the State, and across the country. Previously, these were withheld from these sites because of the lack of ability to charge for them. Significantly, News’ non-local Premium articles are responsible for about 25% of subscriptions. Put the best stories where they hadn’t been read before........and get a result.
But the real success here is in the local newsrooms. On some days, the best subbing story in the state of Queensland has come from the non-daily journos...ahead of journalists working in cities of 2 million to 200,000.
What’s more, some of the ideas from these young journalists have been replicated across the country.
Recently, one of the Surat papers highlighted the worst Tinder profiles in the town. It had 30 digital subscriptions and has been copied by News’ Sydney metro, and other cities like Geelong, Mackay, Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.
Not only has the move to digital proved a bonus to News’ bottom-line, it is changing the face of community journalism and rallying towns. Journos feel in charge of their destiny; and readers are interacting a lot more.