Newsquest (Herald & Evening Times) to introduce online subscription model

As it moves towards implementing a subscription based online strategy, Newsquest (Herald & Times) will take a ‘quality over quantity’ approach as it moves away from targeting unique users and build on a returning online audience.

Under the direction of Mark Smith, who was made digital director of the Glasgow-based company in November last year in order to develop the online strategy, a subscription platform is expected to be introduced across online content by the end of this year.

While the company has yet to fully iron out its plans, and would not reveal the targets it plans to set itself for online numbers, its managing director, Tim Blott has ruled out a paywall platform in the style of that introduced by the Times.

Blott says that readers will be able to access a number of news stories before having to subscribe for the publisher’s online content, while rolling news, commercial content and national sports stories are also likely to remain open for view.

“It’s a question of improving the online proposition to a level where we felt we could charge for it,” explains Blott. “We’ve got to a position where we believe where we can introduce registration, which is starting to catch up. Now we can start to look at content and get more involved in that content, which is where we are now. By the end of the year we believe that we will have a sufficiently engaged audience who will then be prepared to start paying.”

Mark Smith adds that the Herald Scotland platform is already drawing ‘big numbers’ but that the company does not plan to continue to focus on the number of unique users, but plans to draw a ‘quality audience’ in order to offer more to its advertisers.

“That’s what our focus needs to be,” he explains. “The value of someone in Peru visiting Herald Scotland once and never coming back is zero. The industry has generally been kidding themselves when it talks about ‘monthly uniques’ and the vast majority of those ‘uniques’ are not engaging with their brand. They are just happening to find an article through Google by chance and never coming back. We are recognising that and focusing primarily on real numbers. Our key metric is not monthly uniques, it’s repeat visitors.”

The two agree that the role of journalists is evolving away from being solely print based, with reporters now having to think about breaking news online in most cases, while editors must consider stories that can be held exclusively to be broken in print.

As to which subscription model the strategy will follow, both say that they won’t be following that of the Guardian or The Daily Mail, which are aiming for international audiences, although it seems that fully formed plans are yet to be ironed out.

“There’s a divergence of opinion, so what you’ve got is people like Alan Rusbridger and the Guardian which has taken a particular view that their website it all important and the print product is less important. We don’t take that view. We take the view that both are important and we want to develop them and we believe that we can develop them to the best possible quality and that will be appreciated by people in Scotland,” comments Blott.

“Certainly for UK-wide publications who are dealing with content which is very similar to what appears elsewhere, then I can understand where they are struggling to find how they could sell that content, when it’s appearing in a number of other publications, or the BBC or elsewhere. What we’re talking about is content that is specifically Scottish and is sufficiently distinct so that people will say ‘I cannot get that content from any other publication or any other news organisation.’”

The first part of an interview with both Blott and Smith, about their online plans, can be read here.

The company has also launched a comment and discussion forum on Herald Scotland to allow readers to offer feedback on the subscription strategy.

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