New Zealand Geographic and NHNZ (formerly Natural History New Zealand) have formalised a partnership with the launch of a new digital platform and online streaming service.
The new site, www.nzgeo.com, contains thousands of stories and 10,000 images from the 25-year archive of New Zealand Geographc magazine alongside 160 hours of natural history and documentary programming from NHNZ.
“It was a perfect match, really,” says New Zealand Geographic publisher and editor James Frankham.
“NHNZ had a massive catalogue of video content and no audience. And we had a very large audience and no video inventory.”
Frankham’s relationship with NHNZ extends back to 2010 when he did some consulting work for the organisation.
He says a formal partnership between the two organisations has been on the cards for a number of years, but he says that technology wasn’t quite ready for a project of this scale.
“It wasn’t until recently that the new CEO Kyle Murdoch came to me and suggested that he was interested in leveraging the NZ Geographic audience for video,” Frankham says.
“We put the deal together pretty rapidly over about six months or so, and it happened to be at the time we were rebuilding our website.”
The coincidental—and somewhat serendipitous—timing of Murdoch’s approach and New Zealand Geographic’s reworking of the website meant Frankham finally had the technology platform to house this new content.
“A lot of stars aligned to make it all possible,” says Frankham.
“Basically, all of the technology elements had matured to the point of developing a video streaming service from off-the-shelf components.”
New Zealand Geographic had relied on the crude flipbook technology to house its magazines online, and, as illustrated by the following stories, the new site is certainly a major improvement:
While it may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing approach, Frankham says it’s played an important commercial role for the organisation.
“For a few years, we used the flipping good technology and that was a really good commercial concept for it. We were making good money off it through institutional subscriptions, sold to libraries and schools.”
Frankham says these deals, made through the department of internal affairs, now account for a sizeable proportion of New Zealand Geographic’s revenue.
“Over 20 percent of subscription revenue for New Zealand Geographic is now digital through those institutional subs. That’s doubled every year for the past three years.”
With the launch of the new website, Frankham believes the video element will further consolidate this partnership.
Pointing to the topic of mako sharks as an example, Frankham says the footage available through the NHNZ often complements feature articles previously written in New Zealand Geographic. The point being that this added utility will give institutions added impetus to keep their subscriptions going (every student in every school in New Zealand already has access, as well as libraries in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and a dozen provincial centres).
While institutional subscriptions have been a good steppingstone, Frankham has his eye on a new target market.
He has launched the new site with a paywall, charging $1 a week for access to all of the content.
“The trick now with the paywall is to get consumers involved as well,” Frankham says.
Borrowing from the New York Times' approach, the paywall will offer users access to six articles before requiring payment.
Should this approach work, it will add another element to New Zealand Geographic’s already varied revenue structure.
In addition to having institutional subscriptions, New Zealand Geographic also has a healthy subscriber base of 10,500 paying magazine subscribers (down only slightly from 11,000 last year), runs the hugely popular Photographer of the Year competition and also releases hardcover books.
“New Zealand Geographic has never been just a magazine, it’s always been a brand,” Frankham says.
Frankham says that he’s “bored” of the analysis that magazines are now moving beyond the page, saying that it’s nothing new.
“Some of us have been beyond the page for a very long time. Our focus has been much, much wider.”
And he adds that discussions about channels have pretty much become redundant.
“Look around. You have Radio New Zealand trying to turn themselves into a television organisation. TVNZ has a big website and is trying to turn itself into an online publisher. And we’re launching an online streaming service from the basis of print … The boundaries are gone, if they were ever relevant at all.”
But how many people does it take to do so much across so many areas?
Frankham laughs when responding to this question, indicating that it’s one he’s been asked a few times before.
“We run a very, very lean organisation,” he says.
“It’s really only about three or four of us working on it. We have me as editor and publisher, and then we have a developer and then we have a Mac Op doing work on the archives. Everyone else is contracting more or less.”
To save further costs, New Zealand Geographic also shares an office with TheSpinoff, Frankham says.
“You have to explore all the efficiencies that are available … There’s no empire building here.”
New Zealand Geographic might not have giant building filled with fancy technological gadgetry, but—much like its flatmate the Spinoff—it’s a clever media organisation that uses the talent at its disposal to offer something that Kiwis can't find anywhere else. And in the modern media setting so often described as “rapidly evolving” these small, intelligent players seem to be getting something right.