EDITORIAL: New era for winning writing
As Business Day enters a new era it's worth noting global financial publications have demonstrated readers are prepared to pay for quality content and that this has never been more important
Business Day enters a new era today, beginning the process of asking digital users to pay for access to our website. For this newspaper, it’s a big step, but around the world, it’s old news. Newspapers — particularly quality publications determined to continue producing meaningful content — have been debating this issue for about a decade.
In some ways, the answer has always been obvious. If we intend to produce quality content that is expensive to create, we have two choices for generating income: rely on advertisers or rely on our readers. The mechanics of this choice are, in a sense, obvious too, since each digital advertising rand is worth about one-tenth of a print advertising rand. Some large-scale websites that rely on easy-to-produce gossip and sensation can possibly survive on digital advertising alone. We cannot.
It’s an obvious step too from a purely logical perspective. As many have pointed out before, giving away your content for free is not a business model. The trajectory of our digital readership is at once a grand triumph and a demonstration of this problem. As recently as 2013, about 360,000 "unique browsers" a month would visit the Business Day website.
The trajectory of our digital readership is at once a grand triumph and a demonstration of this problem
By 2016, this number had almost trebled to 890,000, according to data produced by independent monitoring agency Effective Measure. In August 2016, the month of the local government elections, we breached the 1-million mark for the first time, recording an extraordinary 1,480,000 unique browsers.
In those years, Business Day’s print sales declined by about 10% a year. Readers were therefore making the logical choice – why should I pay for something I can get for free?
Of course, we know, it’s horrible to be asked to pay for something you used to get for nothing. Consequently, we have bent over backwards to make sure digital users get a truly fabulous deal. We have taken five steps to ensure this is the case.
First, we have put all the business titles — and more — produced by the Times Media Group into a wrapper we are calling "Business Live" and one payment gives you access to all those titles. These include Business Day, the Financial Mail, Business Times and the successful Rand Daily Mail site.
Second, we have added content from not one, but two of the leading international financial papers, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The entire content of the Wall Street Journal site and selected articles from the Financial Times will be available to Business Day’s paid subscribers. In addition, we have provided exclusive company, market and fund data from Morningstar, the international data group.
Third, we are not charging print subscribers of Business Day or the Financial Mail anything extra for access to the pay-walled site. From now on, there is no such thing as a print subscriber; print subscribers are automatically digital members too. Readers therefore access our publications either in print or digitally according to their needs, not ours. Even readers who get company-paid newspapers at work will get free access to the site. All you need to do is ask.
Fourth, we have transformed our newsrooms to make sure we provide more digital content and more in-depth commentary and analysis. The statistics show this is working and underline the high quality of content on our sites. On www.businesslive.co.za, for example, average visit duration and average page duration are noticeably higher than any other financial website in the country.
Fifth, we continue to strive for the highest-quality journalism we can produce from within our budget. Just consider for a moment what the public would not have known had it not been for this effort. Over the past year, reporting on the drama of the battle between the Treasury and the Presidency has been led by Business Day.
The successive issues at Eskom and, more specifically, the contents of the Dentons report were exclusively revealed by the Financial Mail. The battle between Eskom and the renewable energy industry has been a hot topic in these pages. The sale of the strategic fuel stocks was invisible to the world before Business Day wrote on the topic.
More recently, we have had scoop stories on the Bank of China and the Gupta family, the debacle at the South African Social Security Agency and the Airports Company SA. Stories on VR Laser and Denel, the bankruptcy of Stuttafords and problems within political coalitions were all first written about in Business Day.
Around the world, publications, particularly financial publications, have demonstrated that readers are prepared to pay for quality content and that this has never been more important than now in a world in which falsity moves so quickly and spreads so fast.
Please do consider our offer favourably and sign up for Business Live Premium.