Gli editori dei giornali, che nel decennio passato sono stati assediati dagli sviluppi digitali, stanno iniziando a credere che i modelli di business per sostenere il giornalismo digitale siano emersi.
Il loro crescente ottimismo è guidato da una serie di fattori: la crescita dei ricavi da paywall e applicazioni digitali per tablet e smartphone e anche il cambiamento dell’atteggiamento del pubblico, che si è dimostrato più favorevole nel pagare per le notizie online.
Newspaper publishers beleaguered by digital developments for the past decade are starting to believe that business models to support digital journalism have emerged. Their increasing optimism is driven by a number of factors: the growing revenue from paywalls and digital apps for tablets and smartphones, as well as a more favourable shift in public attitudes towards paying for online news. These trends are leading more newspapers to shut off or reduce the flow of free digital news, with the Daily Telegraph and the Sun recently introducing pay services, and about half of US newspapers currently charging for some digital news services.
Although there is reason for publishers to feel some relief, harnessing the new revenue streams is not a simple choice of whether or not you ask digital readers to pay. A lot of strategic decisions have to be made about which of the different pay systems they adopt, given they produce varying results and some newspapers are better placed to benefit from pay systems than others.
Nevertheless, the latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute at University of Oxford shows that paid digital news products are on the rise around the world. It also shows that digital consumers now seem more willing to pay for news, and that new digital platforms such as tablets and smartphones are playing particularly important roles, contributing to the shift in public attitudes.
The pay strategies of publishers vary widely: some put all their news behind paywalls, or allow only headlines and summary paragraphs to be seen, or provide full stories and information free with the best material staying behind the wall. Some even choose to operate both free and paid news sites.
Free news sites rely on advertising income, but only a few publishers can emulate the Mail Online in being able to attract the tens of millions of digital readers needed to make that approach workable. Others opt for a “halfway house”, with “freemium” models that provide some free content, but charge for additional news or delivery on certain digital platforms. This still generates advertising income from readers who won’t or are not yet paying for news, but still taps into the growing market for paid digital news.
The “metered” model, which allows access to a certain number of free articles each month before payment must be made, was popularised by the Financial Times and is now embraced by companies such as the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Over time it has become apparent that the publishers who have taken a more rigid approach with the hard paywalls have lost between 85% and 95% of traffic to their site. The Times, for example, reportedly lost about 90% of its traffic when it instituted its system. However, the lesson is that this can be an acceptable business outcome only if more income is gained from consumers than advertising revenue lost due to reduced traffic. By contrast, freemium and metered models have reduced traffic by only 5% to 15% – thus showing it is possible to effectively generate both sales income and traffic-driven advertising income.
The different strategies are beginning to pay off. A number of large publishers known for their traditional news brands are now generating 15% to 25% of their total revenue from digital media with audiences as much as 10 times larger than their print editions because the digital platforms attract new users. Even mid-sized players are also starting to harvest such benefits.
There are few cases of publishers obtaining significant digital revenue and those that do tend to be leading national news providers in countries with large populations. Their digital strategies are viable even if they only attract a small percentage of consumers.
Publishers in countries with languages understood elsewhere are benefiting by attracting international consumers – a strategy being pursued by the Guardian as it seeks readers in North America, Australia and other parts of the world. This means that digital products offered by Bild in Germany are likely to attract more paying consumers than VG in Norway and that the Washington Post is likely to attract more international consumers than Kronen Zeitung in Austria. This does not preclude publishers in other nations, or smaller news providers, from pursuing opportunities and obtaining advantages from digital sales. However, they will need to pursue tailored digital strategies with different expectations.
Co-operative pay systems, which manage the access systems and subscriptions and payments on behalf of a number of publishers, are beginning to work – particularly for small and mid-sized firms because they create economies of scale, spread costs, and create easy access which attracts new consumers. Two notable developments in joint pay systems have been Press+ in North American and Piano Media in Europe, which are now providing services to nearly 1,000 publications.
Hopes for digital revenues are thus no longer a distant and seemingly unobtainable dream for publishers. The digital world will not yield income that print publishing produced in the 1990s, but revenues and profits from digital revenues are rising and some publishers as now finding workable strategies that make the future look more promising.