Despite the fact the paper was smaller, the launch of the compact New Zealand Herald and its redesigned website was pretty hard to miss yesterday (and not surprisingly, given the ratecard value of the campaign was around $4 million). So how has it gone down with punters, staff and media agencies?
APN's market information director Carin Hercock says she and many others were inundated with emails yesterday, the overwhelming majority of them positive and congratulatory. The changes also received plenty of coverage from other media, perhaps through slightly gritted teeth in some instances, with TV3 taking the 'it's too small for fish and chips' angle.
"We like to think of it as promoting smaller portion sizes," Hercock quips.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uzpgwazV1cSo did the readers like it? Judging by APN's video, which was filmed between 7.30am and 8.30am yesterday in Britomart, indeed they do. And while full sales figures aren't available, the signs were positive: its street sellers in the CDB finished 70 percent above normal yesterday and one of the major supermarket chains, which was unable to be named, had a 66 percent lift in sales.
"The New World down the road came and got more stock," she says.
She says editor Shayne Currie received hundreds of positive emails from readers, and many of those comments are featured in the pages of today's Herald, which, after some feedback indicating the text was difficult to read, had its type size cranked up slightly today.
Compared to previous Mondays, Nielsen Market Intelligence figures show there was an increase in visitors to the newly redesigned website, which, if Twitter is to be believed, and it shouldn't, also went down very well (the redesign was done by the Herald's in-house design team and Wilson & Fletcher, an Australian and UK based company that did the design for the Times of London and ninemsn).
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So is this a structural change to the organisation? Or is it a band-aid over a gaping wound? All media companies around the world are grappling with the same problem: how to keep producing good content when the advertising cash that used to fund it isn't there. Cut back on editorial resources, as most papers have done, and it creates something of a vicious cycle because the audience is likely to decrease and the advertisers take flight, so how is APN going to get out of that tailspin? Despite the talk, there hasn't been any additional investment in journalism for a number of years so, once the big relaunch stories are finished, will it go back to being the same paper it was before?
Hercock says "we haven't gone out and hired a whole lot of journalists", but it is using its four sources of journalism—The Herald, its news service APNZ, the nzherald.co.nz online team and its regional network—more effectively. As a result, she says this will hopefully free up senior Herald journalists to take a more investigative approach and "do the things they're good at", with some of the junior and regional teams filling up the rest of the paper (The Guardian, which reported losses of £44 million last year, has also stated this as a goal and at the Boston Globe, its leaky paywall has been split into 'noble content' from seniors that you have to pay for and junior content that's free).
The Pew Research Centre in the US released some rather concerning stats last year showing that for every seven dollars of print revenue lost, just one dollar had been gained from digital advertising. According to a more recent survey, that ratio has widened even further to a massive 25:1. But it points out that individual publishers that innovate can buck that trend and while Hercock says APN will definitely be looking to grow its digital revenue and make the production process more efficient, it certainly isn't the only focus. In fact, she says it's much more of a brand strategy than a channel strategy and the emphasis is on the brands and sub-brands of APN and looking at opportunities to create revenue, whether that be selling more hard copies, offering more targeted digital advertising through customer data, events or other avenues.
She says APN is looking at the options for pay-walls, but "there is no time frame" on when something could go live (APN chief executive said on Breakfast yesterday it could be in the next three to five years, as that's the way the world is heading).
"Like every other media company, we're looking at it, and we're looking at which brands might work," Hercock says. "We need to look at non-traditional ways of generating revenue. It may work for some brands and not for others. But we're not building a pay-wall right now and we haven't made any firm decisions."
Of course, if pay-walls scare off readers, that calls into question the viability of the paper as an advertising medium. But, after business marketing manager Stephanie Gray headed out with the sales reps yesterday to show off their new baby to media agencies, Hercock says they received "amazing feedback" from them and she thinks the agencies see it as a smart move, rather than a band-aid.
"Product development is the lifeblood of any business. It gives us a reason to go and talk to them and tell them what we do and that we have one of the most important news brands in New Zealand. We've innovated and changed the product. And we've backed it up with a significant marketing budget. So I think it's really, really positive."
Of course, there hasn't been too much in the way of good news for the news business in recent years, with plenty of cost-cutting, equity being wiped off mastheads and job losses. So Hercock says this initiative has also been a real boost for the APN staff. She says there were standing ovations when the new TVC was shown; the new masthead was plastered on the walls of the building, with a manifesto produced to show staff why it is a brand that means so much to the country; and, perhaps most importantly, everyone got new 'H' mugs.
"It is fair to say we were all feeling pretty proud and excited about [the launch] at the Herald yesterday," she says.
It remains to be seen whether the momentum APN has created can be kept up (another marketing push in October will give it another "kick start"), whether the promises of investigative journalism and quality content will be met, or whether the advertising dollars will follow if these changes do happen to increase the audience. But credit where credit's due. Changing a product that people are so accustomed to is bloody hard and it's impossible to please everyone, but the general consensus was that people were impressed with the new versions of the paper and the website—and the excitement those changes created showed that news brands like The Herald are still important and, with the help of some creative thinking, still have a future.