Haaretz digital paywall rebuttal (part 1)
By Lior Kodner
In a major report on the state of journalism, published in November 2012 by the Columbia School of Journalism, the authors gave one recommendation to news organizations – “SURVIVE.”
Part of this challenging task is in finding new revenue streams to finance quality journalism. At Haaretz, one of our main goals in 2012 was to define and implement a paid strategy for our digital entities; a major change for a traditional, print-oriented news organization, founded nearly 100 years ago.
In his blog post on Israelity, Brian Blum criticizes our decision to charge digital readers for our services. “The paper has to figure out a way to make money, or how would I receive any remuneration for my work? But as a reader, I’m frustrated,” he writes.
As I myself am an addicted digital user, who is used to free web content and relates to that ideal, I can sympathize with this frustration, but I would argue that a paid model is the right direction for us.
Let’s start with the basics. Most news organizations have two major sources of revenue – advertising and subscriptions. In recent years both these sources of income have suffered from continued decline at Haaretz – both for its Hebrew edition and its daughter English publication. The latter, which largely publishes translated material, was founded as a joint venture with The International Herald Tribune in 1997, the same year the paper launched its Hebrew and English web sites (www.haaretz.co.il and www.haaretz.com respectively).
Echoing the troubles of other newspapers around the world, Haaretz lost high-margin classified ad business to free websites (such as www.yad2.co.il, the Israeli equivalent to www.craigslist.org), advertisers switched to performance-based campaigns and partly abandoned print, plus the global recession and the local social protests led to a 10% drop in overall ad revenue in 2012. According to reports in TheMarker, additional declines are expected in 2013. Aging print readership and the wide distribution of the free Israel Hayom newspaper are also further reducing income from subscribers.
With this in mind, we have been increasingly focusing our attention on the digital sphere – where the majority of our readers, both in Hebrew and in English, consume Haaretz content. At present, three million unique users visit Haaretz.com per month. More than 65% of these live in North America and about 12% in Israel. This high foreign-based usage and the loyalty of Haaretz digital readers presented a business opportunity – to start charging those who have no option to subscribe to a Haaretz print product due to their location.
For part two, click here.
* Lior Kodner is the Head of Digital in Haaretz.