Taking the digital route

Stephen Dunbar-Johnson - publisher of the International Herald Tribune - explains how the move to put the title under Paywall has actually pushed his readership higher

Online push Social media is a major driver of business for the IHT, according to Stephen Dunbar-Johnson

Online push Social media is a major driver of business for the IHT, according to Stephen Dunbar-Johnson

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) - the global edition of the New York Times - has always been known for its strong readership numbers and high-level journalism, be it commentary, opinion or analysis - a task that requires hefty investment.

Just a little over a year ago, the newspaper decided to take a different road; a monetised one. That should come as no surprise, particularly as IHT, like any broadsheet, requires new streams of revenue to maintain itself as a top-notch newspaper.

As a result, the paywall was introduced; a system that prevents internet users from accessing webpage content without a paid subscription. But, in IHT’s case, it was metered, meaning there was more room for flexibility with readers.

Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, the publisher of the newspaper, explains: “Rather than putting up a wall, so that when you came to the site, you were confronted by ‘you now have to pay’, we allowed access for the first 20 articles for free.

“We did not want to put a wall up straight away. We felt that if we did that, in all probability, people would be reluctant to pay and the audience numbers would fall dramatically,” he adds.

While paywalls may attract new revenue streams from subscribers, the move risks a dramatic drop in readers, which in turn results in potentially diminished advertising revenue. So does the concept work in practice?

“The question is: how do you maintain enough audience that is going to allow you to continue to attract advertising and at the same time, find a new stream of revenue from digital subscribers? We felt, after a lot of thought and work in building an e-commerce platform, that having this metered model was the best way of doing it,” says Dunbar-Johnson.

More than a year in, he confirms that the strategy has worked well for the company, especially as they have not witnessed a drop in audience or traffic: “We can still show advertisers significant traffic coming into the site - same as before.”

To be precise, Dunbar-Johnson says, as the last New York Times earnings results showed, that the IHT has around 475,000 paying digital subscribers: “We have managed to not just maintain our advertising on the website, but it is growing and continues to grow. We had anticipated a decline in audience, and that has not materialised at all.”

Yet another surprising factor that has accompanied IHT’s new monetised route is the growth of numbers in print - not only digital.

“One of the things we had not really imagined is that print would go up as well. What is happening is that some people, who used to subscribe to the [print edition] of the New York Times, have stopped because they were getting it all for free on the website,” explains Dunbar-Johnson, adding: “But, when we turned it around, they realised that they quickly burnt through their 20 free [digital] articles and because they need the news, they will now pay for it.”

In fact, he quickly states that they had around 850,000 print subscribers prior to the implementation of the pay model. Now, it is in excess of 900,000.

The pay model has gradually been creeping its way into the world of news. The Wall Street Journal has had a paywall since 1997, and more recently, the Los Angeles Times launched its wall in February 2012.

The question remains: should the pay model be followed by all newspapers in the future?

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Posted by: Naser Karmi

I am not sure how valid is the statements on web/online adverts losing momentum. From 2008 to 2011, online adverts grew from less than$0.5B to over $3.5B. The contributing factor to this is the mobile apps which grew in revenue from $0.2B to over $7.0B. I see little evidence supporting the pay model, although I agree on the need for quality journalism and content. (Source is Gartner)

Posted by: Mark

One day most leading publishers and newspapers will turn into the pay model to be able to provide quality content for their readers and subscribers. The web/online advertising is losing momentum among major companies and the only alternative is to shift to the pay model to survive in the digital world!

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