APN on the hows and whys of its new paywall strategy

APN Build, Inspire, Engage

Yesterday APN News & Media announced it was setting up paywalls on its regional media websites. Director of sales, products and technology of Australian Regional Media Clayton Cooke spoke to Nic Christensen about the thinking behind the strategy and whether regional news media can get consumers to pay for content.

We’ve seen News Corp and Fairfax Media struggle to get their digital subscriptions above a certain level. Are you worried about resistance among regional readers when it comes to paywalls? 

You always have to manage the community response to it. One of the things I think some companies have done really well is to communicate in terms of why they are doing it.

If we look at all the stats – and we just did a 4,000 person survey across all our territories – they told us a couple of things: one is they love local and they love local media. Our readers view us as the most local of all media so there is already in that community an acceptance of value there across print or digital.

But like anything we will have to manage the communication delicately and well. I expect it to go relatively smoothly.

What level of penetration will you need to call it a success?  

At the International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress last week we heard about how a lot companies raced to base camp – which is one to three per cent – and then stalled.

What I think the chore is now, in my view, is to turn your mind to how you get from two or three per cent to five or eight per cent.

The challenge is how do you find end value to bring to the table to lift the subscriber penetration. I think we will see a lot of penetration beyond what they have done to date – which currently is how they get the most engaged readers – and then look at how they change the meter.

What is the audience you think will pay? 

A lot of people view our audience as farmers leaning over cattle yards, but 54 per cent of our audience is digital and online much like most publishers.

Absolutely from a broad demographic and if you think about our footprint we have 1.9 million people in our footprint.

About 3m unique browsers and without the duplication you get down to 1.5m – that’s the reach you get.

What will the rollout look like?

We will start with one market – one daily at a time and then roll it out slowly over the 12 dailies.

But we will start with one and it is all about iterating – this is not about set and forgot – and it is not the same for each market.

It is about what works here and maybe doesn’t work there and fine tuning it on a market by market basis. We won’t flick them all on at the same time.

Are you worried the paywall will dent your existing traffic? 

I think what a lot of publishers find is that there is an initial traffic dent but the audience comes back. That is for a lot of reasons.

You have to do a better job digitally and now we are incentivised to do a better job and you get the audience lift off the back of having more local content, engaging local content and a lot of publishers find that post paywall they get growth in audience.

We are not overly worried about that in the context of revenue.

  • Clayton Cooke, is director, national sales, products and technology at APN Australian Regional Media

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