About a month ago Business Day‘s Peter Bruce announced that at long last the newspaper would put up a paywall to its digital content.
This has taken forever, partly for technical reasons but also because it has always been considered potentially risky.
A bit like giving up smoking. You know it’s good for your health in the long run but you don’t know whether the stress caused by the transition is going to kill you.
I have always wondered why newspapers originally decided to give away the content of their printed products on the internet. I came to the conclusion that they were all either in a state of complete denial about the way their industry was changing or they were just plain stupid.
Needless to say this first month has been encouraging for Business Day, which has, in spite of putting up a sizeable paywall, managed to garner an encouraging number of subscribers. So, it seems that Mr Bruce is sleeping just that little bit better at night.
But, what really interests me is that in this often-manic debate about newspapers and paywalls, digital content and readership figures, no one is the industry seems to have given a thought to what marketers want. You know marketers? They are the people who give advertising and media buyers the money to ply their trades.
As a marketer, it never ceases to amaze me with the obsession so many people have with numbers.
It’s not necessarily the fault of the media that they are forever having to defend their ABC figures or listenership and viewer ratings, simply because there are so many advertisers in this country who believe that the bigger the numbers the better the chances of advertising succeeding.
This is why I suppose, 20% of all advertising in this country is not only a complete waste but also tends to have a negative effect on the brand it is supposed to be promoting.
When The Times of London put up their paywall, their online subscriber numbers dropped from about 100 000 if I remember correctly, to something like 10 000.
They were overjoyed, because in their opinion 10 000 paying subscribers were not only more profitable that 100 000 freeloaders, but a lot more genuine as a marketing package.
From a marketing point if view what I always advise my clients is not to look at sheer numbers in terms of online subscribers. Or, any other media for that matter.
What they have to look for is the quality of those subscribers.
I would much prefer to see Business Day having only a couple of thousand paying subscribers than tens or hundreds of thousands of non-paying subscribers.
The reason is both logical and simple.
The people who will shell out a sizeable amount of money to receive content from places like BDLive every day are clearly people who will spend time reading it. They will not be like those people who will subscribe for free and then, as is usual, sometimes bother and sometimes not brother to either read what is on the website or read what they are being sent on a daily or weekly basis.
Sure, there are exceptions to the rule but as a marketer I take far more seriously people who put their money where their mouths are than those who are just in it for the free lunch.
Hopefully, those newspapers that have gone the paywall route will build in measurement tools to be able to pinpoint very precisely how successful they are being in showcasing their advertisers or sponsors.
The way technology is advancing leaves one in no doubt that from a marketing point of view it is become a lot for niche and mass media to start creating far more accurate profiles of their customers.
I look forward to the day that this data becomes so overwhelmingly convincing that gullible advertisers are no longer taken for the monumental ride on which they are being taken right now by charlatans who persuade them that firing a shotgun in the dark is the way to go.
In my opinion the newspapers that are able to amass convincing data in sufficient volume will be the ones that prosper.
They will also, incidentally, be the ones that realise that they are no longer publishing stories and opinion pieces, but are providing quality content that their readers, listeners and viewers.
Yes, newspapers in future will have readers, listeners and viewers.