Around five years ago, the NBR started charging for its online subscriptions, with its corporate IP subscription offer arriving on the scene around a year ago. Publisher Todd Scott says it's now bringing in $1 million in digital subs revenue and it will be hoping for more after launching its redesigned website and a mobile-only offer over the weekend and also announcing plans to establish an NBR radio service.
Scott says the cleaner, more modern and responsive website redesign was a 12 month process involving its partners Sparks Interactive and Web Drive. And, unlike the previous updates, this time it has been rebuilt from the ground-up.
He says more efficient code and a new server set-up means the site is now much faster to load, a regular complaint about the old version. And it’s also a lot less cluttered, something he puts down to a reorientation around the needs of its subscribers, rather than the need to get ad revenue (he says the design was informed by heat-mapping to find out how readers were using the site).
“When we started out, we didn’t have subs revenue and were highly reliant on the advertising," he says. "But now we’ve been able to pare that [advertising] back. And I think it’s a better balance now than it was.”
The new site also lets subscribers personalise content through MyNBR. As technology editor/head of digital Chris Keall explains on his rundown of the new site: "By clicking on the tags at the bottom of a story, you’ll be able to build a list of people, companies, and shares that you want to follow, then access a personalised stock portfolio and newslist from our new MyNBR section. Key word email alerts for the companies and people you follow are on the way. We’ve also made it easier to verify yourself. Make sure you leave your company or organisation name because soon they'll be the option to display that alongside your article comments."
Scott says there will always be a few gremlins with a launch of this scale (for example, some of the recent content in the media section, renamed from the previous ad/media section, appears to be missing), but he says it’s received a heap of positive feedback about the changes.
One of the biggest of those changes is the new mobile-only option, which costs $90 a year (and doesn't apply to tablets). While other publishers have dabbled with paid-for mobile-only apps, with varying degrees of success, Scott says this wasn’t a case of looking around the world and copying. It was about looking at how readers wanted to consume content.
Member subscribers with a premium individual online subscription already had access via their mobile devices. But Scott is hopeful that those who couldn’t justify the $235 for a premium subscription might reconsider and he believes the two-thirds of the country's top 500 companies already signed up for the IP sub might consider giving mobile access to some staff so they can access content after-hours or out of the office (Scott says it has had six sign-ups over the weekend).
Scott didn’t want to divulge how much was spent on the project, but he did say it’s a reasonable investment in the future of the business. He was, however, happy to report that online subs revenue now clocks in at an impressive $1 million a year. And "starting every week with $20,000" gives it the confidence to continue investing in editorial content so its network can make better-informed decisions (it changed its slogan to 'the meeting place of intelligent business' last year and its paid-for content philosophy is outlined here).
“It was clear that we couldn’t make changes for the sake of change," says Scott. "We were quite deliberate in holding off until we could create the wow factor.”
He says there was a sense when it launched its IP subs that it would impact individual subs. But they have both continued to grow, he says, with individual subs up to almost 3,000 and 330 businesses now signed up. And, as a result of what it’s just launched, he’s confident that trend will continue.
As for the overall online numbers, in September this year Google Analytics shows the website had 1,309,342 impressions (84 percent) domestic compared to 1,096,251 impressions at the same time last year (81 percent domestic). And Keall says the bump in total page views is the result of more large organisations signing on to IP subs rather than any effort to mindlessly chase clicks.
“In our latest media kit we quote the more conservative 55,000 NZ unique browsers per week, an increase of around 10,000 over last year,” says Keall. “We quote the weekly figure to allow for the fact some people can get double-counted over a month with cookies being deleted.”
He says Nielsen's new Media View survey gives NBR a monthly unique audience of 122,000 for September 2014.
Not surprisingly, the same growth trends aren't evident for the print product, with the latest figures showing average net paid circulation down to 5,858 from 6,719 from the same time last year and readership down to 37,000 from 49,000. But Scott says there has been a marked increase in print advertising. And he puts that down to maintaining a premium and advertisers understanding that the print audience, while declining, is still highly sought after (the new site also allows print subscribers to access the print version online).
“There are two stories in publishing. You’ve either got the biggest audience or the best audience. And there’s no argument about where the NBR positions itself. One area we’ve been really staunch in is the value of our premium positions in the newspaper.”
As an example, he says it charges a 75 percent loading fee for page three ads and 50 percent for ads on pages five and seven, which is well above industry standard. And if there are no ads, it just runs editorial content.
As for the radio service, which will basically be an audio version of the website, he says it's a natural evolution of how NBR content is consumed and it came off the back of the mobile-only sub.
He says all the main stories on the site will be read out so, rather than investing in production or going out of its way to produce new content specifically for radio, it will basically be the same content spread across a different medium, a strategy that sounds similar to MediaWorks’ roll of the dice with Paul Henry’s mutant media breakfast show planned next year. But with a recording studio currently being built next door to the NBR offices, there is also scope for panel discussions and there will be regular features and interviews, including a possible weekly slot with John Key.
He estimates each bulletin will be somewhere between 30-35 minutes, or about 15 stories. It’s secured the services of veteran field reporter John Stewart and it’s looking for a few more presenters before launch in February/March next year.
In-car streaming is also becoming more common and with the ability to connect mobile devices to car stereos, he believes that its business audience will find benefit in the service en route to their next hostile corporate takeover.
The personalisation also applies to the audio, and MyNBR Radio means users will be able to have a say in what they want to listen to. After every third article, a sponsor credit will be inserted into the bulletin (for sponsorship options, click here). But, like Spotify and other streaming services, those who have the premium version of the subscription will not hear any ads.