So the inevitable is upon us; Rupert Murdoch has at last announced the final details of the Times Online pay wall, due to be implemented in June.
Whether you think this is a good thing or not for the news industry as a whole, it has certainly thrown up a compelling argument in its favour, in terms of digital marketing.
The type of engaged, specific and relevant audience that the Times Online can attract is an online advertiser’s dream, and the wealth of demographic information available will be unrivalled to that of any other UK national news site. Creating this elite pool of consumers will automatically increase the value of each specific user, turning Times Online readers into a monetisable audience.
This puts News International in a reasonably strong position to argue for charging advertisers a premium for having access to their elite subscribers. Research has shown that where targeted adverts are placed on the type of niche website that a dedicated audience selects to regularly use, the brands being advertised are viewed by consumers as having the endorsement of the site that they are on. Such is the loyalty and the halo effect granted to these types of sites by their dedicated supporters.
All successful advertisers know that targeting, whether in the form of behavioural targeting or bespoke adverts on niche, relevant websites, goes a long way towards gaining access to a receptive and relevant goldmine of consumers. The game is no longer about reach, it’s about relevance.
Smarter, creative and more intelligent advertisers recognise that, to overcome tighter ad budgets and increased pressure to deliver results, targeting an engaged, relevant and interactive audience is vital.
Alongside the paywall, News International has announced that it will end its ABCe auditing account which currently measures monthly unique users for Times Online and The Sun website. As the drop in user numbers is likely to be significant, it does seem a sensible choice, from a business perspective, to distance the paper from a traditional, reach-focused measurement tool. However, this move also indicates a shift away from counting unique users, in exchange for amassing a relevant and loyal audience of followers.
Whilst experience tells us that this may not be the easiest message to get across to media land, this change in publisher attitude should be hugely welcomed by the online ad industry. We all know that the current attribution and measurement models have their shortcomings, and whilst there may not be any successful alternatives to measurement just yet, an acceptance that a smaller but more targeted exposure will breed a better rate of return, could finally see niche advertisers receiving the acknowledgment and attribution from brands that they deserve.
Currently there is still a widespread lack of awareness from publishers that the scatter-gun approach of exposing as many people as possible to an advert, regardless of its relevance, just isn’t as successful. However, News International’s change in attitude could hopefully spread more widely across publisher platforms.
The only part of Murdoch’s plan that doesn’t quite fit in with this business argument is the apparent disregard for the value of Times Online advertising its own brand to the 20m unique users who currently visit the site every month.
20m is a huge number of people to which to demonstrate the quality of content and journalism on the website, in a bid to tempt them to buy the paper, or subscribe online.
It’s interesting that there has been no mention of an FT-style service of offering a limited amount of articles for free per month to attract subscribers. This is despite the fact that, by all accounts, this approach works well as demonstrated by the growing number of niche publications such as New Scientist and Economist who have recently adopted this approach.