Benita Chacko

Beyond advertising: Diving into diverse avenues for monetising news websites

During the recently concluded Digipub World, hosted by afaqs!, publishers discussed different monetisation strategies, including subscriptions, donations and advertising.

From the early days of digital journalism, the question of monetisation has taken centre stage. In the initial years, free access to content meant news websites had to rely on advertising revenue. For a long time banner advertisements remained the main source of revenue. However, the saturation of content, combined with a rapid decline in ad rates, has compelled publishers to look beyond the traditional revenue models. From sponsorships to events, from subscriptions to affiliate marketing, news outlets have explored a plethora of options.

During the recently concluded fourth edition of Digipub World, hosted by afaqs!, publishers discussed different monetisation strategies, including subscriptions, donations and advertising.

The panel was moderated by Sreekant Khandekar, co-founder, afaqs!, and included Abhishek Marla, channel partner lead (Asia and Africa), Chartbeat, Chitranshu Tewari, director, product and revenue, Newslaundry, Hemant Jain, president & business head digital, Lokmat Media, and Radhika Shukla, head - subscription growth, strategy & analytics, TOI Plus, Times Internet.

Tewari said that ad revenue can no longer be the default revenue model. In its 11 years of existence, Newslaundry has not taken any ads and is primarily dependent on readers' revenue- subscriptions and crowdfunding.

"Initially, explaining payment for news was challenging as news had long been free or subsidised. Our slogan, "When advertisers pay, advertisers are served; when readers pay, readers are served," underscored the need for awareness campaigns. Now, with growing OTT adoption, readers grasp paying for quality news. Technology has also evolved. Formerly, payment failure rates reached 70-80% due to limited gateways; now, multiple options ease transactions," he said.

Marla also advocated the subscription path. "Experimentation with diverse models is essential for understanding your audience before delving into DMPs (Data Management Platforms) or similar tools. Begin by evaluating user loyalty, then experiment with effective content, and finally, explore varied models," he said.

However, Jain advocated the sachet-pricing approach. "India is the world's largest micro-transaction economy. The growth of payment apps has expanded the potential paying audience, indicating a substantial market for valuable services. Exclusivity drives micro payments, but there is no potential for subscription with easily accessible content. To successfully shift differentiated content to a transactional model, I'd adopt a sachet-pricing approach," he suggested.

He admits that it is difficult to make the Indian audience pay for content. However, he says that subscriptions can be driven through unique offerings like research reports or editorials enriched with exclusive datasets.

Shukla says a distinct advantage with subscriptions is the heightened user insight they offer. Subscriptions shift the focus to understanding users extensively, delving into their journey and propensities. It offers a profound understanding of users, surpassing the insights gleaned from years of online advertising efforts.

"Notably, user segmentation and cohort creation have been central. This process enhances funnel precision, leading to improved conversions. It is believed that free trials will lead to conversion. On the contrary, we noticed that the conversions and upsell was low. But when we stopped the free trial, subscription numbers went up. Tailoring free trials for specific user sets, like partnered or abandoned-cart users, has proven fruitful," she said.

Watch the session here:

Have news to share? Write to us