APN CEO Michael Miller: Some publishers are ‘giving up too early’ on paywalls



The CEO of APN News & Media Michael Miller has warned that some of the US publishers who are taking down their paywalls are “giving up too early”.

But Miller, who is also chairman of industry body The Newspaper Works, indicated Australia had some catch up to do in the mobile and branded content spaces.

Speaking to Mumbrella, on the sidelines of the International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress in New York, Miller said some publishers were “hitting a wall” with their digital growth but that they needed to look to overcome this.

Hear Miller’s full interview below: 

“It’s an area where I think we have seen a few US papers giving up too early and not thinking outside their particular markets and their core content saying who can they partner with? What else are their audiences looking for?,” said Miller.

His comments come after the likes of the Toronto Morning Star presented to the INMA forum about their challenges in building digital subscribers.

In an interview post their presentation COO Sandy McLeod said: “Within about 90 days we seem to have plateaued – we spent about probably six months trying pretty aggressively trying to move the number and found that was expensive and a relatively high churn rate.”

In the wake of discussion by the Star the room was polled with only about 10 executives left standing when asked if they were doing digital subscriptions well and would recommend them to others.

“I took yesterday’s poll as being a bit mixed,” said Miller. “One of the questions was who thinks they are doing it really well and there was a small group saying they were doing it well.

“I think there is definitely a commitment but there is definitely – pardon the pun – hitting the wall – and there was a discussion today about what more can be done about showing that a lot more can done in terms of assets that grow revenue per user and the subscriber base.”

APN is one of the few local publishers to so far not introduce a paywall, with News Corp, Fairfax introducing them and West Australian Newspapers signalling to Mumbrella in March it was now looking at its options.

Miller refused to be drawn on whether APN had plans in the space but said: “I get the sense that the majority of the businesses still feel that quality content should be paid for.

“Given that news media companies are not just print or digital news orientated – they are across many formats the question is can they bring other forms of value to that subscription.”

Miller also commented on the discussions on mobile growth saying there was some catch up to be done for Aussie publishers.

“I don’t see anyone in the Australian space leading the market and I think we have some catching up to do,” he said.

The have discussions around mobile and whether news media have done enough in putting mobile first.  That’s where there is an opportunity to be mobile led.

“I think it says something that all media companies, not just companies with a print background, are grappling with.”

The APN boss said he was excited about the opportunities for branded content in the media space, with the US market tipped to double in the next five years. 

“There is a significant opportunity for commercialising branded content. The thing that stood out for me is how unique some of the case studies were coming from a news media company as opposed to independent agencies.

“I obviously have an interest – APN recently in invested in Emotive, with Simon Joyce leading that, but we have been definitely viewing the trends out of the US, particularly around not just news but around sport and entertainment.

“Australians have a history of engaging in branded content but I think there is some catch up to be done in the Australian market.”

Nic Christensen in New York.  

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