NBR continues its digital expansion with personalised radio, opens up trial mobile subscription to the masses

Last year, NBR launched a new mobile-first website that publisher Todd Scott says involved thousands of man hours. And the new features keep coming, with a personalised online radio service set to launch soon and the offer of a free six-month mobile subscription for its corporate and SME IP subscribers and, soon enough, anyone in New Zealand. 

While NBR’s IP subs have been a successful innovation, with 338 organisations signing up, more media is being consumed via mobile and Scott says not being able to access content when they were away from outside the office was a bugbear for many. So it created a $90-a-year Smartphone subscription and it is now offering all employees who work for companies with a SME or Corporate IP subscription a free six-month sub (the access period is from March 1 until August 31).

From April 1 (no joke), it will also open the trial up to anyone, which he sees as a good sampler to get people to think about subscribing. And while he admits that some subscribers might not be that keen to pay for a full subscription after getting a taste of the cheaper, mobile-only option, he’s taking the Steve Jobs approach and cannibalising his own business before someone else does. 

Scott says 800 people from subscribing companies have already signed up for the free trial. And so far it has around 130 paying mobile-only subscribers (the NBR will automatically extend all paid Smartphone subscriptions in place on April first by six months). But he says there hasn’t been a lot of fanfare around that offer so far. 

“The best way to make some noise was to offer it for free,” he says. 

Scott has a radio background (both in sales and as a drive time presenter in Christchurch) and with podcasting gaining prominence and companies like Monocle doubling-down on digital radio, so the creation of NBR Radio seems to make sense. It has recently built a studio in its Auckland offices and it hired Grant Walker and John Stewart to read the stories from Heads Up (the morning newsletter) and Last Call (its afternoon newsletter). They also read some stories that are behind the paywall. 

So far he says there have been 16,000 streams of NBR Radio, a number he admits is pretty modest. But he says the editorial team has really embraced the idea. As well as panel discussions (he says the one about Fonterra’s 1080 issues yesterday was some of the best radio he’s ever heard), it also features journalists and columnists like Rodney Hide and Matthew Hooton talking about their pieces. He says it’s a great way for listeners to learn more about the personalities in the newsroom and the thought processes that go into writing the stories (he says he’s still happy for editorial staff to appear on panels in mainstream radio). 

One of the new site’s features was the ability for logged-in subscribers to personalise the site through the MyNBR function by saving people, companies and shares. He says many of its readers simply don’t have time to tune in at a specific time (The Wall St Journal’s latest campaign has embraced that by saying important people who don’t have time make time to read it). And MyNBR Radio, which is basically an on-demand radio service and is set to launch next week, will do that in aural form by allowing subscribers to create playlists and listen to what they want, when they want. 

He expects that feature to be a big drawcard for its busy subscribers, but it is still being tested as the development team from Sparks Interactive suggested a few additions that it felt users would appreciate and they have required more time and funding.

As for advertising support, he says he took a leaf out of commercial radio’s book and presold nine revolving sponsorships last year to foundation NBR Radio advertisers for $950 per month plus GST for three months and then increased the price to advertisers who came on board from December to $1250 per month. It currently has 12 advertisers (for example, “NBR Radio with Bayleys, New Zealand’s leading commercial real-estate company”).

Scott says it is using the things that are putting pressure on the print product to create a more sustainable business. Numbers are up significantly online (it quotes 55,000 unique browsers a week), but average net paid circulation for the newspaper late last year was down to 5,858 from 6,719 from the same time last year and readership down to 37,000 from 49,000. Even so, Scott said there had been a marked increase in print advertising. And he put that down to maintaining a premium and advertisers understanding that the print audience, while declining, is still highly sought after. 

Scott says the NBR’s paywall now has 3,022 subscribers. Digital subs revenue is now over $1 million a year and going by conservative estimates he says it hopes to increase that to $1.3 million by the end of the year and, if it manages to convert 10-15 percent of the free triallists to paid subscribers he hopes to go into the 2016 year with well over 4000 online member subscribers. In the long term, he says it has a target of 10,000 subscribers. But to get there, he knows it will have to continue to invest in editorial resource and it has recently added a number of new high-profile business writers, including Tim Hunter, business editor at the Sunday Star Times, Hamish McNicol, business reporter at the The Dom Post, Vicki Jayne, who will work on the Rich List, and another senior reporter who is yet to be named. That will take the editorial team to a total of 17 and while there used to be separate teams working on print and online, that isn’t the case anymore, he says, with writers now working across both channels and tailoring their content to suit each medium.

He admits the NBR had a reputation for being a bit of a revolving door when it came to editorial staff, but he says the team is strong, the vibe is good and no-one has left for a long time. And that seems to be a strong endorsement of the power of reader revenue. 

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