NBR claims world first as it sets free its set fee

The National Business Review is shaking up its online subscription model by offering individual companies and all their staff a flat-rate fee of of $249+GST per quarter to gain access to its online content. Head of digital and technology editor Chris Keall says overseas publications with pay walls like the Australian Financial Review or the Wall St Journal do offer corporate deals, but certainly not to this extent. And he says the decision to go down this road is an attempt to streamline the digital subscription process and make the site more appealing to smaller companies, which obviously make up the bulk of the Kiwi business sector

He says it has 21 businesses (including Fonterra), government departments, universities and other large institutions signed up to their own individual subscription deals, but each one required a lot of “to-ing and fro-ing”. They will all now revert to the quarterly $249 fee, no matter how many employees are on the books.

Of course, many have claimed the digital realm is cannibalising the NBR‘s print offering and Audit Bureau of Circulation figures seem to back that up, with average net circulation of 8197 in the December 2011 round, down 10 percent from 9093 a year before. “Every print publication in the world is struggling to find subscribers,” Keall says. So is it making up for that online? While he would love to talk about NBR’s online subscriber numbers because they’re “pretty good”, that information is deemed commercially sensitive (it’s also “already hard to put a number on it” because of the number of large organisations with access to content, and this new policy will presumably make it even harder).

He also says there are some very encouraging signs for paid content overseas, particularly when it comes to business news and consumer-focused content of the Consumer ilk, that give him confidence this is a good approach. He points to figures in paidcontent.org that showed The Financial Times is now drawing more revenue from its digital subscriptions than it is from print and he says the Australian Financial Review has also been “pretty successful”.

As a professional journalist, he wishes the likes of the New York Times or The Times well with their efforts to implement paywalls, but he doubts this approach will work for general news, especially when you consider the attitude of the not-for-profit Guardian, which has said it will never charge for content. Conversely, special-interest magazine titles are faring surprisingly well in the face of the digital onslaught, as this article about a meeting of modern mag lovers attests. And, in a similar way, the NBR is different from mainstream news because it offers specialised content (interestingly, NBR editor Nevil Gibson is on the MPA board rather than the NPA board, even though the NBR comes under the newspaper umbrella for the ABC).

So as large publishers scramble to find business models that will work in this increasingly digital age—and close down the things that don’t bring in the cash—how will the success of this new venture be quantified?

“To a degree, it’s a waiting game,” he says.


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