Last month, Fairfax announced some more changes to the structure of its newsroom, with a big focus on becoming a digital first media company. And Nielsen numbers show its hub stuff.co.nz continues to move up the top ten most popular site rankings while the majority have gone down year on year. But is this digital growth translating to dollars?
stuff.co.nz clocked in with a unique monthly audience of 1,811,000 in March, a new record that has closed the gap between the Trade Me audience to 38,000, and strengthened its leadership position over rival news sites NZ Herald and Yahoo! New Zealand.
Interestingly, only three sites increased their audience over last year: Stuff was the largest with a 15 percent gain, followed by New Zealand Government and Wikipedia up four percent. Conversely, Yahoo was down 23 percent, YouTube was down 14 percent, Facebook was down seven percent and Trade Me was down six percent. Even the all-powerful Google was down three percent. Maybe we've reached Peak Web?
Over the past year, Stuff has climbed from number eight to number five on the top ten brand sites. It’s also the third consecutive month Stuff has outranked YouTube, which had a March audience of 1,758,000.
Sinead Boucher, Fairfax Media NZ group executive editor, says in a release that the record numbers are a good reflection of the success of Stuff’s new drive towards a digital-centric newsroom, as well as an increasing volume of content on the Stuff Nation platform. Stuff has also been advertising more, with the 'Go Full Spectrum' campaign and clever use of digital screens to showcase big headlines. It is also training journalists how to film video on their smartphones, and has invested in an experiential and events unit and purchased stakes in Neighbourly and Pricemaker.
“Our dedication to digital storytelling and new digital-centric editorial and production practices have been delivering quality content to audiences, and it’s great to see these changes so well received," she says. "Our growing audience figures show New Zealanders are responding well to this editorial style. In addition to our consistently strong journalistic team and ongoing dedication to digital, Stuff Nation continues to be very successful and also drives significant readership. We currently have 240,000 Stuff Nation members - many of whom contribute regularly—and we are seeing user-generated pieces feature frequently among the most read and commented articles on Stuff.”
Boucher also credits the record audience figures to Fairfax’s new content management system, which was introduced in December 2014 and explained in depth by product development director Robert Hutchinson. Fairfax says the system, which is also used in Australia, allows a more flexible approach to publishing and keeps up with international trends, which have seen various publications like Buzzfeed experiment with how content is presented to audiences.
“We’ve put a big focus on telling stories in a digital and mobile-first way, using lots of fresh media elements like videos, images, charts, diagrams and snippets pulled out of Twitter and other sites. This is well supported by our new content management system. It is no secret that it is our ambition to be the biggest domestic site in New Zealand—and we are certainly on our way there."
'How many' is still a legitimate metric and a powerful drawcard for advertisers. But it's crude. And some, primarily premium publishers like The Economist and Financial Times are starting to move away from CPMs and focus on attention metrics like engagement and time spent.
While focusing on digital is obviously a long-term strategy for Fairfax, not everyone is a fan of that focus. In an interesting interview with Radio New Zealand's MediaWatch, long serving, retiring Fairfax journalist Hank Schouten lamented the pressures on journalists to provide content for different mediums, the removal of editors of some regional papers, the "compulsion to go for a wider audience" and boost clicks with a different type of news, and the cannibalisation of the strengths of newspapers.
When asked how much of its revenue now comes from digital, Fairfax spokesperson Emma Carter, who is currently busy answering questions about the attempt to retrieve its photo archive from the US after the company tasked with digitising it went into administration, said it wasn't able to divulge that figure. But Schouten said 80-90 percent of its revenue still came from print.
In a time of media plenty and increasing programmatic capability, digital ad rates are going down, not up. So it's a tough balancing act that many big publishers are confronting. In a project led by The Guardian, some of the world's top digital publishers have even joined forces to create the Pangea Alliance, which claims to offer advertisers an audience of 110 million global influencers—and is an attempt to compete with the likes of Google, Facebook and other major ad networks.