If news providers are to ever really command online loyalty they will need to offer subscriptions that include a promise that the subscriber will not access rival newsbrand sites.
This is different to a conventional paywall. Advertisers are told that subscribers to a paywalled site are loyal as they will spend most of their time within the paywalls simply because they’ve paid to be there. The subscribers, of course, have no obligation to do so and blissfully stray.
Creating genuinely loyal online users would be desirable because, in the words of the research firm Enders, “newspaper websites, despite their differing brands, are all competing for the same people online: mid income, young(ish) users – unlike in print where they have distinctive audiences”. It would be a joy to newsbrand owners if they could return to the days of distinct and premium priced solus readers.
At the moment a subscription clause that stipulates that a subscriber cannot visit a rival site could not work. However, a couple of foundation stones are being laid that might, just might, make it possible.
Firstly, digital audiences are growing up. To date, they’ve been chasing content around the web like a children’s football team. No tactics, just dashing after the action. This causes high levels of distraction and low levels of concentration which, in turn, block productivity, creativity and well-being. The more sophisticated consumers are realising the folly of that.
2014 will see the rise of apps, software products, plug-ins and extensions designed to shut out distractions and increase focus. An example is Nanny, a Chrome extension that blocks distracting sites from your browser. It could block sport sites from 9am to 5.30pm on a weekday, for example. It can also limit the time you spend on certain websites so you can be stricter about only using Facebook for half an hour a day. Nanny is one of many examples and others include Anti-Social, RescueTime, Freedom and Concentrate.
If such tools catch on it will demonstrate a desire, amongst more sophisticated users, to limit their online sources in return for more thinking and doing time. Why should this not mean using just one newsbrand site instead of several? Subscription to one newsbrand could involve downloading Nanny style software that helps the subscriber manage their time but also blocks or time-limits access to rival newsbrand sites.
A second foundation stone is Targeted Advertising. The proponents of this new science aim to put a well defined and high price on the head of the different consumers they target. If they know their worth they’ll know the maximum price they’re willing to pay to get them – but they’ll want to pay as little as possible.
They’ll pay more for two things. The first is a trusted environment. Richard Sharp, MD of audience-targeting platform ValueClick Media pointed out the added value of a newsbrand site when he told Marketing: “Facebook is a great solution; it’s very cheap and easy. But the content is not policed – it’s not written by journalists and doesn’t go through the editing process. You [advertisers] have to make sure with your intermediary you set and define your boundaries properly”.
Secondly, they’ll pay more for audiences that are hard to reach. A newsbrand will only be able to command the price that these audiences are genuinely worth to advertisers (their true market value) if they are hard to reach via other sites that offer similarly trusted environments.
If a newsbrand owner knows how much a subscriber is worth to them in terms of targeted ad revenue over the course of a subscription lifetime – would media owners not be willing to pay them to subscribe? Newsbrands are getting pretty extravagant in terms of the free gifts they are willing to give to sell subscriptions (tablet, anyone?) – Why not offer more to secure solus readers?
Would you go for it? A quality newsbrand offers you a big gift or payment plus unlimited access to their site on the proviso that you don’t visit their rival’s site? At the end of this year or the year after that I wonder if such an offer will sound so strange.