In this week’s MediaRoom column, Tim Murphy looks at what premium New Zealand Herald content might cost with a new paywall, the write-down of Stuff Ltd by its owner and another experienced journalist heading to PR.

COMMENT: In February, New Zealand Herald owner NZME announced it would introduce paid ‘premium’ content to its website this year. This week it launched a reader survey giving the first indications of what the Herald might try to charge, and what types of content it is considering including in the paid subscription.

The survey, conducted by Nielsen, contains fascinating tidbits. For example, it asks readers what their view is of content from Rupert Murdoch’s The Times and Sunday Times in the Herald‘s paid offering. Major English language newspaper sites from the UK, Australia and the United States are also listed, with a news site called the San Francisco Globe whose home page says it is being discontinued and no longer posting new content.

It appears the Herald plans to introduce email newsletters to its premium subscribers as well, with possibilities listed including a Weekend Long Reads email, Weekly Business Insights and one on Health Trends.

Of the subject areas readers are asked to rate as ‘premium’, the NZME survey lists business, politics, property and technology as the first four.

One innovation being considered is giving premium subscribers access to the NZME headquarters newsroom for tours and briefings from leading editors and journalists. There could also be discounts offered for the business talks series the Herald does with PWC and special deals on the NZME daily deal site GrabOne.

Industry research has shown consumers (as opposed to business or enterprise deals) prefer such ‘membership’ or donation benefits to straight out subscription charging.

Readers are asked at what figure between 50 cents and $15 a week (for a Herald bundle of local in-depth journalism, business material from perhaps Bloomberg and foreign feeds from the Washington Post and Daily Telegraph UK, and add-ons) they would consider “so expensive that you would not consider paying for it”.

They are asked for the same range of prices how much would “be priced so low that you would feel the quality couldn’t be very good”, or is “starting to get expensive so it is not out of the question but you would have to give some thought to buying it” or to be “a bargain, a great buy for the money”.

After they’ve done that thinking, the survey gets to the point: “How likely would you be to subscribe… if the price per week is $5” – with the options ranging from ‘very unlikely’ to ‘very likely’. Two other price points, $3 a week and $7 a week are explored.

That would mean the Herald is looking at somewhere between $150 and $350 a year for its premium offer, with the rest of the site remaining free. The survey form is silent on whether print subscribers would gain access to the premium section for free, but that is commonly the case in other markets.

As a comparison, The Australian‘s site-wide charge is $9 a week; the New York Times can be accessed for between US$1 and $US2 a week, depending on the deal; the NBR financial site here can be bought for mobile-only access for about $3 a week; Newsroom‘s paid sub-site Newsroom Pro with its own detailed morning newsletter and special content and updates online throughout the day costs around $7 a week and the Politik site is $3.58 a week.

This week the Herald poached one of paywall journalism’s leading New Zealand evangelists, Chris Keall, the digital editor of the NBR, to work on this premium section.

Nielsen monthly audience figures for news sites for July show now well behind (2.1 million to 1.67 million) after getting as close as a difference of 130,000 last year. The 430,000 audience gap might not be as much of a concern as in the past, as the Herald‘s strategy to establish a part paywall and raise revenue from subscribers means total audience numbers, and thus advertising revenues, are less all-consuming.

NZME announces its half year results next Thursday.

Stuff in consolidation ‘box seat’

Fairfax Media’s annual report released on Wednesday made clear it wants Stuff Ltd to be at the forefront of any media company consolidation in New Zealand.

Stuff is already seeking Court of Appeal approval to merge with big print and digital rival NZME. But as MediaRoom has reported, there is also said to be back-up interest from Fairfax’s Australian merger partner Nine Entertainment, and from Oaktree Capital, the owners of MediaWorks here, in some kind of tie-up with Stuff.

Fairfax’s chief executive Greg Hywood refused to “speculate on speculation” when asked about the Stuff-MediaWorks link. But the annual report contained this nuanced paragraph:

“As in Australia, we are believers in the benefits of media consolidation in the New Zealand environment. With the strength of its digital assets and audience, profitable print and 90 percent population reach, Stuff is in the box seat to participate.”

If Stuff is successfully married off to NZME, it is hardly in the box seat when the music stops on media musical chairs. The combined giant would almost certainly be denied approval to gobble up other media entities.

It has been well reported that Stuff’s book value has been cut dramatically by Fairfax – with impairments of its mastheads, licences and tradenames cutting $A60 million off the previous value of $100 million and a further $40 million of impairments for plant and equipment.

The New Zealand business saw its revenues fall A$310 million to A$280 million last year and underlying Ebitda go from $52.3 million to $37.3 million.

Fairfax has effectively taken out the trash, in an accounting sense, making Stuff a cleaner partner for anyone kicking its tyres.

Not so Rich List

One of the big media set pieces of the year – the launch of NBR’s Rich List – seemed to lack some of its usual hype this year. The NBR itself launched it live on its site and on Wednesday and Thursday had endless breakout stories. But apart from the story leading the site with a picture of basketballer Steven Adams’ $50 million fortune and something on on wealthy supermarket owners, the Rich List did not seem to dominate even the first news cycle.

Neither television channel went big on their 6pm news and radio and social media was relatively quiet on the list of billionaires and multi-millionaires in our midst compared to past years.

The Rich List is a big revenue-earner for the NBR – a print goldmine in former years as smart and expensive brands lined up to associate their wares with the rich and famous. So as the NBR newspaper on a Friday becomes ever more anemic advertising wise, and assumes a kind of print death rattle, the importance of the Rich List as a single buy for NBR revenues must have increased.

However, before launch this week, NBR publisher Todd Scott tweeted out a warning to other media not to abuse his copyright. “I am asking ALL newsrooms to respect copyright on this year’s NBR Rich List content. Duncan Bridgeman will be in touch with you directly, but I WILL litigate against any copyright infringement this year. Please respect this.”

By all indications, they did. Restricting the hype and public awareness of the product. Rich List? What Rich List?

Transferring to Transpower

A well-known and regarded name in business and economic journalism, RNZ‘s Patrick O’Meara, is leaving the public broadcaster for a job in communications. O’Meara, the RNZ economics correspondent, is a fixture in its morning business updates and will be a loss for the RNZ National audience. He is going to Transpower.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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