Director of the Reuters Institute Rasmus Kleis Nielsen on why we get news subscriptions wrong
The way in which journalism in the news industry thinks about the business challenges and opportunities ahead is through the lens of their own problems but the way in which we can create value and convince people to support us in creating values by focusing on other people's problems and convincing in the biard in fact a response to the welcome to meet voices. Everybody we take a look at all the news and the views from the media world that week. We know that there's a lot going on. And it's almost day luge of news content so we like to take a bit of a step back and provide some analysis for all those new stories. I'm chris cliff pizza houston on. We're joined by nobody today. Because that's there is still off this week. I spoke to rasmus nielsen. Who's directed at the reuters institute for the study of journalism. We had a great chat about where newspapers going wrong. Subscription marketing efforts. Why there's no easy solution to the need for internal change in newsrooms on why nordic countries outperforming when it comes to a membership mentality but before we get to that one hundred podcast made it to the shortlist for the second annual publish up podcast awards organized by guys this to get this more. I mean it's just been bro in the nfc should re stellian sess year and the in the audio space is just being convenient. Incredible we've got a couple of new categories my personal favorites the best karuna virus podcast which i was desperately hoping is instill on the bill this time next year that'd Also got new new categories for best launch on best commercial strategy. So really looking forward to when else will be refueled in a choke celebration and actually one of the benefits of the virtual thing. Is anyone from any queer can come along. And you don't have to get an actual venue. Which ashley last year was a member. I mean i remember most of got fuzzy. Then we do print programs in gift boxes for people that want appeal but extra. I'm for your kitten. Tease till celebrate from the safety of their own socially distance a hostess so then he's rhonda and pizza. Can you read out the sentence that you wrote here to really sums up the news this week. Yes it seems to me. That are three things that publishes kid about at the moment subscriptions subscriptions And of course subscription. Okay so what. What prompted this. What was the the big headline figure that we saw this week. That made that style What's new in publishing a report on the q. Three twenty twenty digital publishers revenue and decks that the lawy- does with the up three percent of digital publishers of witnessed positive revenue growth in cousteau and that's driven mainly by a significant increase in subscription revenues. That talking about you know mostly b. two c. Titles but this a to be tacos in there as well just having been in the right place right time to step up a subscription stuff as. They saw an ad revenue beginning to freeze at the beginning of last year. But you've bet on half. A publishes seen revenue gross. No actually sure at the end of the the other thing. I was interested in national core. Is that the digital publishers. The talking about a not giving on advertising the actually reprioritize advertising and that seems to be because if go less headroom the subscription revenues bought. Yeah it's it's that rising tide fil boats thing where they can now invest in actually doing outs properly rather than it being. You know this. Br sclera yeah exactly. Let's just get the mit out of the way first. Because they're the big power play. Well yeah i mean. They just want an southern a half million pin subscriber people. Yeah they respect the last week But there was a few things as sweet. We hadn't a newsletter talk They wanna the morning newsletter reduce the smelt the morning newsletter readers readers of the morning newsletter talk is like that we know pins guests saying and a us not to drive subscriptions if go consumer revenue site called a wire cutter yup. They're looking at testing a subscription product. Nah i'm still not convinced by that one but how come you want to pay for reviews i people. Did you know that has were like yeah. Exactly and a lot of that stuff is driven by a fellow at revenue rate so jeff chills growth is driven by affiliate revenues. I just i. I don't know the two don't set well with me so i don't know about been interesting. And we mentioned crosswords and cooking that but that will investing way way more in digital games and puzzles because a third of its two point three million new digital only subscribers have come through those cooking games audio apps dropped at the thing on this year. Did you will donor I mean that's just kinda fascinating to me and we. I spoke to raza's about that. You know to. What extent is that. The brand that striping that only stop people specifically looking for quality crosswords cooking app and it just so happens to be affiliated with the mit but his the other one was interested that making a play for subscription based mit. Kids news product. Yeah i think. That's i mean we've seen the success of the region Either there's been a couple of places who have launched. Kids newshounds simone newspaper forest. Cutting awards called minna. Freddy ready got can't content. Such a bad fleet ready never really got content. Focus that young people and the neo tapes. So i guess it's just package in it. Yes suddenly like you said you would not bear guess in your teams that obviously looking at us and i think he's actually become part of the new york teams so investment play. Yep temps of people you know. The ship price changes iceland. New tight to the Yeah definitely but then not the only ones who were doing well firms descriptions so this one's go. This one solve took my fancy little bit this week. So using the telegraph the daily telegraph in the uk is boosting its facebook engagement by two hundred five percent which is then driving subs growth which to me seems to kinda book this trend. You know that you can no longer control will audience. What the context that it was publishing to them was kind of fool strategy. Oh i think it's telepho- start. Jabbar is better than it is better than than to be driving such growth over the platforms is definitely great wiggle. Un i with the esta. Have in view of the taylor. I'm trying. I'm trying not to say anything. I'm like time. Mata the bone in terms of their content and their coverage in the point of view of the very conservative organization. Yep but as a publishing fat law. And if he shouldn't yes any between the the the way the podcast set up this qena thing using ai. Sailor i told her that. Brenda p wall. Even the newsroom. Setup to the extent of showing which articles were driving more subscriptions which has since been adopted by lava the blazes. They were ahead of the curve. Lawless will though process saying that polly's result if this investment in social engagement that they've generated forty five percent growth in subscribers up to august twenty which the latest figures available They also as this. What's new publishing article points out. They do have above a foothold in this very high value verticals around current of our supposing a travel related news which will inevitably drive much more. Subscriptions people won't those recommendations and it's not just the right leaning outlets that dune as well because the new statesman has celebrated a forty year high for paid for subscriptions. I know yeah we put this in. The newsletter joined the week and we went back to our interview with jesse jackson. Who at the time was kind of a digital outta making a big push for subscriptions and overall traffic to the new statesman website which has been pay. World is around two million per month but the same time circulation across brennan digital's to just shy of the five thousand as of january which is the high slopes recent. Four years are one the how much this is. thus cananea play You know because obviously if you're So what's for the telegraph. What's the new statesman. Few escaped at telegraph certain. Point of view. And you want your news from that point of view. If you subscribe to the new statesman you want your news from a seven point of view. And you'll subscribe to new statesman Bloomberg with the at carry member is a hundred million dolla- bloom barca's targeting the add some. Yes one of those. Those for their consumer subscription play insane moon shop figures that they occasionally truss out on. But yeah but is away from But that's very much governed by these niche content areas these. These are detailed often new seriously definite as a point of view thing. But it's the same idea that you're going on. You're going narrow on subscriptions rather than what we know what we talked about. Before the the can a non subscription failures these detail goffin and the new statesman and on bloomberg does nothing mushy of any other the comment from a very specific place. The last of technology pot a subscription level subscription dot were doing. I don't totally understand box saints a deep deep news. Ai frederick few lose Project yet used to be effectively. It was it's a rebranded needs quality score index. So the point was it. It was looking at trying to clear not just call out misinformation but actually give a tent news content a quality score dot. You could decide suppose whether it was rough advertising against our yet that it was designed to actually fix what they were talking about the as the undifferentiated a nature of news content online where those basically no thought given to how much time had been spent producing it and zolt everything was valued effectively the same which then rewarded bad actors for just pumping click bait stories. So what cisco subscriptions while that basically now saying that there that they have found. There is a direct link between the quality of a story and how likely people ought to convert from it how likely people ought pippa subscription on the back of that story. So they're slightly shifting that focus now to demonstrating that you can still apply news quality school to these stories but they actually hasn't benefit four subscriptions as upsizing as a really really interest in little roundup of why they believe this. And whether gonna go from here. So i really recommend checking out. I think we believe in the news. That's on friday but maybe will include a link on the website along with this episode monday. No and they know yeah. It's been nice well. Subscriptions is three important things in the world of publishing at the moment as we said subscriptions subscriptions and of course subscriptions and ns fix news in brief the pandemic has boosted the appeal of because zien ze one of the worst portman. It really is. Yeah i was just thinking is awful. I did an interview for the fep congress. Let's say last year by to this. The time has just become completely on mold from reality. I have no idea when anything two thousand and nineteen anyway. The last congress in las vegas. I did this porno interview. Soy slamming duck last congress in las vegas. I'd enter few ways. larry hackett. Who used to be there to chief of people magazine and has whole business i guess at the is making. These can abidcating products on behalf of oughta publish us and he was just talking about how powerful these things could be a law archive content. You mix up some new content package off. Make it really beautiful. And not a a fairly hefty cover price on. So i think these things interesting even in the craft market. Nor you know people that are not publishing on the same schedule a dune. These kenna almost like Review issues where the take pass content and package them up under theme You know so. He has your vacation of staycationing content user christmas content however as a scientist and da idea. Megan and worcester. You've got onto. Why the pandemic has been one. That's pushed people to do stuff. Bow thank pa. That may be because todd. What making yukon. Look in the got capable kim ya. Let's let's cape up pop as a boy actually completely bruise. My people's patterns at stuff that people get cain allow on edge the sorry. Pd you have to go on board with black pink and bt asam k. da. That's a huge amount of quality music. Coming out of how career if how moving on so polish media has suspended reporting protesting a plan tax on advertising. This is really really dangerous. Situation will links this article alongside the episode. Because i really recommend people read it but press suppression is a very very likely outcome is effectively censorship by taxation. It's it's a really dangerous situation. That's one that we should keep an eye on. The new yorker is printed a new weekly cross what we actually predict that. Well there's a pair of split an immediate voices. Well what do you think. I think that nine thousand nine point nine percent of all revenue newspapers revenue even is gonna come from crosswords by probably the end of this week. That seems to be what people getting their revenue from. I think that's wrong. I think it's going to be a forty eight point. Nine percent crosswords and for eight point nine percent cooking. Okay but what about kid. Focus news Shoe kits depends how long danes skills are closed. I'm so stupid. Pommy was just like whether it be kiss rep a and humanity and abang children men and there's been more tests which this week because it stood by its decision to permanently. Banned trump Maybe one of the lessons will ever mentioned this podcast by his quote on quote and quote quote unquote quote unquote exoneration in the goals till he runs into a twenty hour. Yeah exactly and it's also possibly defied. The indian government attempted clamp down on coverage of the new delhi femmes riots which By all accounts are absolutely horrendous effects. To said we're not comment down when not shutting down journalists twitter accounts because we believe in basically free speech and actually oh you won't garden aficionados the open web. No yeah. This one's kind of interesting. This might all waves elliott the week. I can believe attention. Go i sleep. What press about. C company behavior person that automatic is acquiring parsley the not the very friendly lion for those h but the content sorted the the analytics com. Yeah one of the the the full big analytics companies And it's done it with the specific game of driving uptake of its would press. Vip platform effectively. It's saying you know we are defending the open. What by giving you the tools necessary to publish do it. Do you know possibly the line and lambert the sheepish lion. Parsley was in the hips. Which is a catch. tv program in this season. Some this. oh wait. Was it like a stop motion thing then yes. I'm a very friendly line. Call parsley not look at I've never seen the show. Unless you're the putting pista now is great down at the bottom of the god and among the birds and the bees. A lid allowed a little people that call the potting b.'s. Facebook is rumored to be building a product to compete with clubhouse. I i signed up for club. Hosa just couldn't bring myself to join any rooms. i mean. I guess we should have a look as podcasts. We should have a look on it. I've looked at it. I hate it hung opposite short this week. I to kleist nielsen. Who's the director of the reuters institute for the study of journalism at the university of oxford. We had a good chat about where newspapers are going. Wrong subscription marketing. Why there's no easy solution to the need for internal change in newsrooms among nordic countries outperform when it comes to the membership mentality. I i asked him about coca cola bottles to begin with light while skew about a twitter thread that you took pods and earlier in the week which also included my media voices host piece houston which was talking about what bush selling. This is what they should be selling. And you illustrated this through the medium of coke bottles so coq cells is very easily defendable products and markets. That well but publishes don't seem to have the same success in law cases doing them. So what was really. Be the that thread and you know what spoke to about you. I mean i think that whole thread really responds and sometimes quite darkly humorous. I think a very fundamental feature of how a lot of journalism and out of organizations approach their relationship with public over also citizens but also consumers and it tends to piece of quite focused on the needs and desires of journalists and news organizations and much less attuned to what does this look from the other side of that relationship from the point of view of the public and essentially the threat is a response to a think the fact that sometimes news organizations who want to sell people subscriptions or assign them of as members or donors are quite focused on their own needs and not nearly as focused on the needs and desires nash. Perations of the people. They're trying to respond to the media. Analyst thomas bechtel did this mockup of an imaginary hypothetical coke advert going by this bottle of coca cola because we would like more drink people drink it which is not very compelling eventually but i think pitch that most people who listed podcast like this think of examples of news organizations tried to sell subscription more or less absolutely on those lines and then sort of occasion a number of different versions of similar. Dr humorous takes you. Buy this bottle of coke because we spent a lot of money producing it. That was the one that we used to go to make. Or buy this bottle of coke because society needs coq. The the difference of takes can be more or less therapeutic and more or less spot on as to what actually existing publishers. Doing but i think what all of them having communist that they pointed at a problem it seems to me which is that much of the way in which journalism in the news industry thinks about the business challenges and opportunities ahead is through the lens of their own problems but the way in which we can create value and convince people to support us in creating that values by focusing on other people's problems and convincing them that we are in fact a response to that. Now this doesn't have to be sort of if you will strictly utilitarian and transactional. I mean is interesting. I think you suggested that coke has clearly defined product. I suppose if that depends a lot of what one means the product us. I mean kogas a feeling. It's an identity. A sense of something that goes beyond that of a civil drink. And i think we can easily think of journalism and news media offering more than the sort of as sick utilitarian value of the information is being provided and also help people see the world in a different way experienced the world in different way feel a sense of belonging to a community of other people like them or or or or unlike them for that matter. Who have something in common for example identifying with and engaging with particular news provider But i think it's fair to say that in a lot of the marketing that we see when news organizations who are turning to read a revenues at trying to sell subscriptions like is very focused on us and not very focused on the public that we aim and claims and they are the ones we have to convince. You don't need to convince me or journalists that what we do is important that we want more people to engage with uneven pay for it. You needs to convince the people who aren't doing it simply is not. There was the one that you you mentioned that which is please by Produce that seems to me to be the ultimate one that speaks to what you're talking about that were it's it's almost performative for within the company rather than actually appealing to the public about this. Of course it costs to produce good journalism but that in itself isn't particularly good selling point to a public who don't necessarily see the point about. I mean yeah. That's that's a feature. And i think it's suggest if you will that we risk coming across a little bit entitled As if we are entitled to other people Paying our salaries and our rent. And i happen to believe personally that there is a very great endure significant public values some journalism that you much journalism much time but even the argument that you bet by this metaphorical bottle of coca cola because society needs even. That is quite a weak argument. I mean societies and people need lots of different things and most of them. They don't get in most of the world so you'll us when we're gone not particularly convincing pitch either. I mean i think we have to be much more clear eyed about creating value and that value demonstrating that value and communicate in that value. To people who have a lot of a lot of things compete for their attention. A lot of things compete for the money that they have available. And frankly at the moment. It's not obvious that journalists becomes top of that competition since what extent than anything that is the kind of woolly proposition is behind the experts. The success successive places like the new york times which does have very concrete value exchanges. And things like it's crosswords and it's you know cooking but as well which included not use bundle. I think the core value proposition in the new york times is the quality of its news reporting And the a caliber of analysis and opinion that people associated with it and the identity that the paper carries as a prestigious paper record and and one that is recognized globally by many as something that you want to engage with. Even if you don't happen to live in the island of manhattan or even in the united states am i think. That's what sets the new york times apart and we need to be clear that that is a reputation and a reality that most news organizations Don't match most news organizations. Do not have the kind of news from the new york times house. Not have access to the kind of talent around Analysis opinion does not have the reputation And the history and the stature and prestige of the new york times and we can see already. I think that it's a limited number one. I say that are competing directly head to head with the new york times in that space. The wall street journal the washington post Some british based Upmarket titles as well now the new york times has been very good at a bundling in different ways That unique offer with things that are also utilitarian and are tailored to this demographic and user constituency. The new york times is attracting And that has i think help them acquire more subscribers than and bind in the ones that they have retain a one the ones that they have and in some cases also generating incremental revenues by sailings of a freestanding is subscriptions to things that are less directly and necessarily tied to the new york times journalists and honoring. The like it seems to me that the the The essential part of that whole package is the new york times and his journalism. The other things can enhance it both from the point of your users and as a business but under our own. It's hot to see that the new york times Make full pivot to cooking. Crosswords ditch journalism so that journalism is essential that business but it can be an enhanced in in other ways so to who else do you look for inspiration around who's doing marketing and subscriptions and memberships really really. Well i mean. I think it's worth leaving aside. This ultimate is it of half dozen to a dozen lodge globally oriented english-language upmarket publishes who have sort of pretty distinct market an unfair advantages in the way they aren't really applicable to most news organisations globe. Please leave in english or other languages. In that sense. I would really i think focus on The demonstrates best in class examples of newspapers in smaller markets that have been really really successful in building basis of people who value their journalism and Digital born newer entrance. Who have done the same weather around subscription around membership. I mean i think the this of posterchild of the first category of story news organizations with a long history that are really right now on a role in terms of digital subscription basis. Dogs no hitter in sweden. Where a really clear. Focus on Doing journalism in news reporting and analysis and opinion that is worth paying for and then very very closely researching and understanding That valued documenting weather people in fact recognized. See it experience of constantly. Tweaking where do we put our efforts. Editorially we invest. How gounon proved that the product side of the user experience side and the tech side of this to make it s friction as possible for people to really engage with his journalism and make an an and have the best possible experience with it. The confidence to make it available on the basis of of an e sign up and registration for free or heavily discounted because the believe that the majority of the people who agreed to be of this journalism. Their attention will come to the conclusion that it's worth more than just their attentions also worth money has driven very very significant success. A dog engineering in sweden. And i think many publishers around the world really learned from that they're not alone. I mean they have advantages in terms of their history and their brand and the ownership bonnier corporation's lohan company but there are new entrance in in countries around the world who are doing similar things Whether it's media pod and franz or el diario in spain or malaysiakini in malaysia organizations who have carved out a very clear and distinct identity. That's based on the quality and of their journalism and journalism doesn't try to be everything for everybody or cover the whole waterfront but create very clear added value against a backdrop of. Let's be frank largely commodified and generic highly substitute able very short life journalism. That is available for free of the pony inception and has convinced tens of thousands of people not just honor them with their attention to pay them. There's or as members because they believe in their journalists and they bind to the mission of it but also because they they recognize the value that accrue to them as uses of it individually And for the groups that they are part of and i think this is really encouraging and take nothing away from the fact that there is a wider crisis business journalists. But i think it's really encouraging to see at growing number of both of legacy titles but also new entrance that are convincing. Significant numbers of people to pay for journalism in a world in which basic commodities information is abundant and free and everywhere and still even against that backdrop. We're seeing more and more titles. Yes certainly. I think that's really interesting in line to the conversations that we've had around particular local and regional news and the advantages that they have to provide you know what's called service journalism or what people terming service gentler. Even though it's hard to delineate out from regular journalism the idea that you you demonstrate value to your audience by actually being open used to them in some way. I mean it's it's it's i think it sort of reflects the Frankly entitlement and lack of sort of clear eyed realism. That has suffused macho of the business of news. Historically very stable businesses high profit margins pretty slow development and a pretty state market often dominated by limited number of Known competitors confronted with these greatest structural transformation in the media environment at least since the printing press of not longer and to assume that business as usual would cut it in that environment is suicidal. And we're seeing the results of that. And i'm not saying it would have been easy to do things differently but the sort of lack of realism and the lack of will to confront. Just how much. The marketplace has changed. How much we as a consequence need to think about to change what we do in the business can sustain such a strain. I think is quite striking. And you know there are things that publishers have no control over and there are. There are very real challenges though exposed externally whether they are political otherwise platforms. Avid sizes changing preferences. But they're also some that are self inflicted wounds. We haven't been realistic about the environment that we're in And we haven't been clear eyed enough about how do we actually create value for people and in the light of that. It's not surprising That some of the stories. We face even more severe than they could've been and we should recognize some people doing much much better and seeing much much better results for again to some of the specifics. About why those alyssa doing well doing it. Well do you think this a growing. Do you think we are sports confronting that so if that lack of self awareness do you think there's a movement towards it now or is it still people still quite entrenched in their own thinking about the the publishing ecosystem I mean i think it becomes harder and harder to sort of playing to the outdated worldview But i do think we sort of need to contend with the fact that there are probably some generational differences here that are not necessarily so much about the analysis but just about different interests Let's be clear this stuff is hot And and a lot of the changes that might lead to better business outcomes in the long run a very very painful short run for the organization. They can be quite difficult to sell to owners. Investors who may be focused on the next quarters for salt and not The results in five years time tenure years time and it's only schulman if there are some senior editors and executives who might think the hearts of hearts maybe the lost. My timeout a. Maybe i can sort of get away with sort of business as usual term the costs on the legacy print product and sort of business as usual digital wave my hands talk about a and blockchain and tiktok from time to time and then someone else go to figure it out. I mean that is an understandable reaction. Because he's a daunting challenges and they are very hot and not everyone face them will succeed But the truth of the matter is that may be true for someone who's sixty that it might lost their timeout. Might even be true for someone's late fifties. It's not true for everybody else. And i think we are increasingly clearly seeing that generational sort of Issue which is not about age about just the reality of people's different situations and there are many people who are very experienced. People in industry are really leading. The digital transformation says not about age but there are different interests here and there is a rare god and there is vanguard And i think we need to just recognize that difference of interest and that there is a conflict here that's not solely about the future of the professional industry but it's also about just people having different positions in the industry. The absolute like you said completely understandable Suppose self-defeating in the long term. And then you some of the examples you mentioned that Historically we've seen some countries Have a higher proportion of people who have historically been willing to pay for news. How much of that is because of how well the individual news outlets in those countries have marketed themselves. And how much of. It's just due to cultural differences. I mean look i mean. Some of the most successful companies in subscription game are in the nordic countries and they have some inimitable advantages that you can't rep elsewhere. I mean it's sort of hot to go to a publisher in france or spain and say well if had become protestant four hundred years ago nation-building mass-based membership organizations who considered newspapers to be essential part of a driving very high print subscription rates for most of the twentieth century. Then you'd be in a better place right away which lp's elemmann can act on that observation that said there are operational things that every publisher can learn from what some of those companies bonnier ship stood j. People that chicken bailing comedia- are doing everybody can look at their operational success and think about how that might be in their own context and it's also important is not only the people have unfair inimitable. Advantages sooners succeeding at face. Do you have a favorite piece of media that you want to really recommends the media voices. I'm a precarious consumer of many different kinds of media. But i've been in the bid of bench with a snap judgment one of my fairly costs In in recent weeks. I am just full of admiration for the storytelling and the quality of of work. That goes into the glen washington in his team. What they do and also just the philosophy of it I mean. I think glenn is really a someone who had tickets very clearly what he believes in and i think know he and his team have managed do something that really stands out from a really really crowded market with many great things out there. And it's something that i really treasure in value. Every time i listen to. Thanks as always for listening. Please tell anyone you think mate lake a weekly media news podcast to listen to to come on over to media voices if you like what we do. The head over to our page co dot com slash media voices. A few wanted throws a couple of glad to cover operating costs on me smile. He would make us smile so much. It's pathetic how up. I am every time i get tickly. Yeah and if you on desperate for more media voices content beyond that. Do sign up to our daily newsletter. You can do that by going to voices don't media. It contains the most media stories of the day as curates by and a link to our latest episode. Of course as i mentioned at the top of the show we have the publisher podcast awards. Any pro you can have a look. Polish podcast awards dot com and get saved up for a ticket a virtual ticket. But until next week when we'll be back with a fantastic guest and another tore through all the news from the media world for that week. Thank you very much for listening and do stay. Safe always stay safe.