Fairfax in push to persuade readers to share data in exchange for better user experience

Fairfax will next month begin a major drive to persuade its online readers to share more information about themselves in exchange for a better online experience.

In a move that signals that data acquisition rather than paid content will be the main plank of Fairfax’s digital strategy, readers will be able to control such features as autoplay video and autorefreshed pages – so long as they are logged in.

Fairfax is pursuing the strategy because it will enable advertising to be more tightly targeted, which in turn generates a far higher advertising yield.

Jane Huxley FairfaxJane Huxley, CEO and publisher of digital for Fairfax Media’s metro division told Mumbrella in an exclusive briefing that she aims for more than half of Farfax’s online readers to be logged in.

At present only around 2-3% of online readers log in to Fairfax’s websites, usually to access its email newsletters. Huxley said: “We want to get that up to about 50 to 60% over the next two years.

“That’s the number I’m aiming for. Is it aspirational? I don’t know.”

She added: “People will log in to turn off autoplay. If you log in, your user experience will be enhanced. In a year’s time, if you do not log in, your reception will be less warm.”

Fairfax first promised to let its readers turn off autoplay video just over six months ago.

Also driving the log-in push will be increasing the number of articles that can be commented upon, with only readers who are logged in allowed to comment.  Additional features such as saving articles to read later will also be offered to logged-in readers. A further potential service is access to real time ASX information. At present, most sites offer ASX information on a 20 minute delay.

The strategy recognises that a loyal reader is generally of more use to an advertiser than a casual one sent to the site via Google or social media.

However, Huxley insisted that the strategy is not a prelude to switching on a pay wall because the publisher relies on continuing to deliver high levels of traffic for other parts of its commercial strategy. She said: “It’s hard to give up the crack because this is the traffic that powers the transactional and classified engines.”

“That’s powered by breaking news. We will not put up barriers to entry for breaking news.”

She predicted: ‘I am not calling any decline in traffic as we implement this, in fact there might be an increase.”

Huxley was appointed to her current role in March after previously being GM of media. Prior to Fairfax, Huxley worked for Vodafone and Fairfax.

Although the company will not follow News Limited in making paywalls a central push, the company will look at delivering some user payments, including an ad-free version of the site. Huxley said: ‘There are people who will pay to have the content without ads on it. I don’t expect a big number.”

The company will also explore micropayments – of perhaps $1.49 to $2.49 – for special reports. Fairfax Media’s CEO Jack Matthews is currently leading a working group examining pricing packages and bundling.

The iPad apps for Fairfax media’s metro mastheads of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which are currently in a free trial period will still eventually become paid although it may take two or three months longer than originally announced, Huxley said. “We will charge because the behaviour is already there. There will be some announcements about that in the coming weeks.”

Asked about News Limited’s strategy, which saw the Australian’s paywall activated this week as the beginning of a three month free trial period, Huxley said: “I rarely see advantage in going first because it’s very disempopwering for the audience.”

Huxley said that the new technical platforms to drive the move should be ready next month, but certainly before the end of 2011. She said: “This is a massive technical build.”

However, she said that the moves to driving the business through data acquisition are not brand new. She said: “The gun fired a long time ago. This is about bringing the troops to the front line.”


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