The Listener goes freemium, ‘breaks down the time wall’ with new digital offering

APN’s NZ Magazines has embraced the freemium model with the launch of a new responsive design website for the New Zealand Listener that combines free and paid content and enables subscribers to read the magazine on any device. 

Current print subscribers will receive free digital access as part of their subscription. And digital-only subscriptions are also now available, with access to the full content including archives starting at just $5 for one week and $129 for a year (check the prices here). The print edition goes online at midday each Thursday and is shown in simple HTML form, rather than as a digital version of the magazine. 

“The launch of the Listener’s digital edition is a real game-changer,” says editor Pamela Stirling (she was unable to be contacted this morning). “Readers tell us they see it not so much as putting up a pay wall as breaking down a time wall—now they’ll be able to get the magazine the minute it’s released.” 

As she wrote in her editorial: “No longer will they have to wait weeks for the magazine content to appear on the website. Readers as far afield as Beijing, Washington and London—a third of the traffic to our website is international—now have the opportunity to engage with the magazine in a more immediate way. And because the digital edition is created using responsive design, readers anywhere will be able to read the magazine on the device they choose: on their desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, iPad or other tablet … We still, of course, love print, and the Listener will always be a mix of the timely and timeless. But for the last year, Toby Manhire has been doing a superb job, with his live blogs and posts, of helping the Listener quietly evolve into a powerhouse multi-platform brand. Now the whole team—and, very importantly, you, the readers—are also joining in … But it’s important to be clear. The digital edition is being launched simply to reflect changing reading habits and to enrich your experience of the magazine. The Listener, which has the highest circulation and readership in the current affairs market in New Zealand, is not in the situation that magazines like Newsweek have found themselves. By international standards, the Listener is very successful. Our per-capita circulation is higher than Time magazine’s and more than four times that of the New Yorker and the UK’s Spectator.” 

New Zealand is something of an anomaly in that magazine circulation and readership hasn’t fallen as dramatically as it has in many other markets. And, given the stress on news weeklies elsewhere, it has certainly held up pretty well, going from 73,887 average net paid in 2002 to 56,183 in the latest numbers, giving it the highest circulation and readership in the current affairs market in New Zealand. 

The magazine also won the Canon Media Awards Best Newsstand Magazine Award this year and also took the prize for Magazine of the Year – Mass Market in the 2012 Magazine Publishers’ Association awards. Stirling also won editor of the year in the same category.

It’s good to see paid content becoming more common and more value being placed on its creation (in the US, for example, the number of newspapers with paywalls doubled in the past year). But it’s a tough nut to crack and not many publishers anywhere in the world have managed to do it. As this Mashable story says, “it’s common for people to spend $5 on a vanilla latte but to agonise over paying $5 a month for a web service because there’s still a psychological barrier to paying for online services … If you’re not charging for your product, then your users are your product.” But the pickings are fairly slim in that regard when it comes to digital revenue. 

And while we live in an era of FOMO, it will be interesting to see whether online readers are willing to pay for up-to-the-minute content or are happy to wait until it becomes available for free. 

This move follows a rehash in April last year where it decided to stick with free content, added the ability to comment and share stories, and posted most stories from the current issue the same week.

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