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Hearst and The New York Times: emphasis on subscription business

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Uncertain advertising environments drive an emphasis on subscription-based models to the fore, the reading of two recent stories – one on Hearst’s acquisition strategy for 2017 and the other The New York Times’ 2020 Group report – side by side again shows.

In the case of Hearst, this re-emphasis of subscriptions may (continue to) include acquisitions outside of the “traditional” media sector in 2017, according to Bloomberg, quoting Steven R. Swartz, President of Hearst Corp. 

Bloomberg reports that Hearst spent more than $2 billion on acquisitions in 2016, to “significantly reshape our (Hearst’s) business mix.” According to the article, quoting Swartz, "'The media industry is coming to grips with a less favourable supply and demand equation,’ he [Swartz] said, noting the Internet has created 'virtually unlimited places to put advertising.' Swartz said Hearst is trying to increase subscription revenue to become less dependent on an uncertain advertising climate." This includes "a growing role in providing data and software to other businesses.”

In The New York Times 2020 Group report – Journalism that stands apart – one need not read beyond the 4th paragraph to see the following words, “We are, in the simplest term, a subscription-first business. "Our focus on subscribers sets us apart in crucial ways from many other media organisations. We are not trying to maximise clicks and sell low-margin advertising against them. We are not trying to win a pageviews arms race. We believe that the more sound business strategy for The Times is to provide journalism so strong that several million people around the world are willing to pay for it.”

Two different subscription bids from two leading media companies under discussion above, of course, but with asimilar underlying reminder nonetheless: in uncertain advertising markets, the recurring, paying customer is king and queen.

Hearst and The New York Times News Service and Syndicate are FIPP members.

More from The New York Times report:

Here are 7 brief take-outs from The New York Times report, in addition to the subscription-first focus:

  1. More (and better) visually-driven storytelling is an enormous opportunity
  2. Less institutional-style writing, more conversational – fit for the “lingua franca of the Internet”
  3. Employ a richer, more digital mix of journalistic forms – at pace
  4. A new strategy for features; rethinking and modernising The Times’ role as a “guide” (as “the bigger opportunity”) without completely doing away with traditional features
  5. Nothing builds reader loyalty as much as engagement – the feeling of being part of a community. More needs to be done, including on the building of reader network effects
  6. Staff skills must be aligned with the ambitions of the business – through training, hiring, newsroom diversity, rethinking the approach to freelancers
  7. Reorganisation of the newsroom to reflect a digital future rather than print past

Hear from The New York Times at the 10th Digital Innovators’ Summit (19-21 March 2017 in Berlin), where Francesca Donner, Director of Times Insider at The NY Times will be one of more than 60 speakers.

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