A letter from the National Business Review's publisher

Dear Reader,

The National Business Review is introducing a new paid Subscriber Only Content service to augment its regular news service.

These selected, top stories will be aimed at providing you quality, original, useful material you will not read anywhere else. And they will be relevant to you as a time-poor business person. They will add a new quality dimension to business reporting in New Zealand.

We will be offering you an introductory subscription rate for access to this exclusive content for $89 (normal rate $149). This will allow you automatic access to all Subscriber Only Content for the next six months. The cost is a little more than 80c a day and I promise you it will be one investment you won’t regret.

I expect about 20 per cent of our web news to be Subscriber Only Content. The exact ratio will vary as we will be using the category for only the best news stories, scoops and commentary pieces that we post on any one day. Besides the serious issues of the moment the content will include large doses of satire and goings on uncovered by our nosey Private Bin reporters.

As you know, there has been endless discussion for a number of years about the crazy model adopted by newspapers in most parts of the free world in which they pay the enormous costs of running professional newsrooms only to give their content away free – while at the same time slashing newsroom numbers to save money as circulation and advertising revenues fall.

And to add to the madness it has been the aggregators that have profited the most from the supply of that free news copy. Worse still the model has spawned a huge band of amateur, untrained, unqualified bloggers who have swarmed over the internet pouring out columns of unsubstantiated “facts” and hysterical opinion.

Most of these “citizen journalists” don’t have access to decision makers and are infamous for their biased and inaccurate reporting on almost any subject under the sun (while invariably criticising professional news coverage whose original material they depend on to base their diatribes).

It is only a matter of time before the model collapses. The alternative is newsrooms decimated to the point of processing public relations handouts or unedited government propaganda from their fully staffed team of spin doctors.

Overseas the Wall Street Journal and The Australian Financial Review have successfully instigated subscriber paid policies for premium content and legendary publisher Rupert Murdoch has promised the days of the internet’s “free lunch” news service from his newspapers is about to end.

Our move to Subscriber Only Content has been driven by our belief that laying off journalists as a cost-cutting tactic is a route to oblivion for newspapers. I know there have been previous attempts by New Zealand publishers to charge for their news and these have failed and left them so far scared to attempt new initiatives.

What we will be introducing will not make the mistake of providing journalism as usual and charging for it. We know that we will have to provide a consistently superior news service and I believe you will quickly see we are up to the challenge.

We are at a tipping point in The Great New Journalism Adventure. I hope you will join us in creating a bit of history and subscribe.

Best wishes

Barry Colman
PUBLISHER
bcolman@nbr.co.nz

P.S. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Old journos like me always over write. We get a bit carried away. When I started out pages were on paper and had an end to them. And thanks too for visiting our home page. Please tell your friends how good it is.

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54 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

I'll pay when you get real stories that make a difference in the business world. Not just hashed stories that have no base.
What story has the NBR lifted the lid on in the last 12 months that has made a difference??

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Barry, didn't you already try this model way back in the late 1990s?

Did it work then?

While I applaud you for your desire to avoid staff cuts, I think your approach is very simplistic and short-sighted. Instead of taking the "easy" way by being a follower and employing a method that has already proven (in the case of NBR) *NOT* to work, why not think outside the square and become a leader?

There *ARE* ways to make news publishing work online -- hell I did it with 7am.com way-back at the same time you were losing money with the original NBR by adopting this flawed model.

As for bloggers leaching your content -- you really are being quite myopic there.

Remember the key aspect of the internet: leverage!

The reason 7am.com went from nothing in 1997 to having a greater reach than the news websites of BBC, CNNfn, FoxNews, Washington Times, and even *PlayBoy* by 1999 was very simple and still applies today -- albeit with a twist.

Here's a clue -- your traditional readership may no longer be the biggest source of revenue available to you.

There are many exciting and profitable new online publishing models just waiting to be adopted. Whoever is willing to break away from last century's ad-funded/subscription model first (and do it properly) will reap very rich rewards.

Don't be a lame follower of other people's strategies, be an innovative trend-setter and show others how to do it.

ps: my door is always open if you want a chat.

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As one of those horrible bloggers who leach off the content of the NBR's hard work, I've published a column on the topic of NBR's step backwards today.

Oh dear.

I'm sure that the average NBR reader will be smart enough to work out where to find it.

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I'll say one thing for you Bruce S - you've certainly got the "self-promotion by sounding like you are an expert on everything" model sorted. But how much money does it actually bring in? I'm betting Barry drives a nicer car.

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I would be prepared to give this a go for $89 for 6 months BUT TRY AS I MIGHT I CANNOT FIND ANYWHERE ON THE WEBSITE THAT LETS ME DO SO. I am offered print subsciption or digital replica - neither of which matches Barry's proposal. Am I missing something (apart from the blocked conent)?

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Thanks...............but no thanks

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As a subscriber to your print edition for over 10 years I am seriously contemplating dropping my subscription. I agree with Aardvark above, that the path you are taking is a rocky one indeed.

I have ardently supported the NBR brand with advertising my company in it frequently and reading the daily emails. This is a blatant mechanism to screw over your loyal supporters. Why not provide the online stories as complimentary to subscribers??? Hight have been a good idea! Too late now.

There must be a better way and we do expect more from you. Try harder.

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Love it! 'In order to provide you with a better service, we're going to charge you for something you currently get for free...' Oh well, back to smh.com.au, nzherald.co.nz, goodreturns, interest.co.nz for my morning catch-up.

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I wont be subscribing, the simple reason is I have a news bookmark with 10 newspaper websites with free content and the stories you publish will eventually appear on one of these sites, Also as an interested property person I find Bob deys website a lot more informative on the subject. A quick google search finds the stories you what me to subscribe to are available on http://newsriver.co.nz/.

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Thoughts? As someone who has bene involved in online revenue models for a decade or me I think you are misisng the point here. Sure your revenues will increase in the short term but your readership base will decline very quickly indeed. Suddenly those long-term revenue projections don't look as good, do they.

Shame, but as others have said NBR doesn't offer something that can't be found elsewhere.

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For what? News I can get for free anywhere else, good luck LMAO. It is so rare that there is a story on here that isnt on Stuff, NZ Herald, Business Day, or Bob Dey.

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How many companies in these difficult trading conditions will be willing to spend money to subscribe to news stories? Most have already cut newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
So…all the best Barry, as my colleagues, friends and family are all off to free news sites.

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Good luck with your 'pay per peep' plan .... I will stick to the free content sites thanks Barry

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Barry,
There is no indication today that the 'subscriber only' content is worth $89. Since we are unable to access it, how do we know that it is oinin to be ' a consistently superior news service' .
A one month subscribed trial period is teh way to introduce a 'new product', whihc may only be the old dressed up in 'drag'.

AND as for yhour paragrahs reading :-
Worse still the model has spawned a huge band of amateur, untrained, unqualified bloggers who have swarmed over the internet pouring out columns of unsubstantiated “facts” and hysterical opinion.

Most of these “citizen journalists” don’t have access to decision makers and are infamous for their biased and inaccurate reporting on almost any subject under the sun (while invariably criticising professional news coverage whose original material they depend on to base their diatribes).

This is the very sort of drivel that has brought newsmedia editors into disrepute, and is largely responsible for the demise of the 'Daily newspaper circulation'.

Some of the most inaccurate, and certainly most politically biased reporting I have read has been from your 'proffessional trained reporters'.
Sensationalisim is not the same as reporting facts.

Most bloggers make intelligent comment. The fact that it may not suit the ideology of the editorial p[olicy does not make it ill-informed. Remember Barry, we actually live out in the real world, and are the movers and shakers of commerce; the ones who are trying to create employment, and in many cases succeding despite the sensationalist politically biased reporting which is so common today, both in new papers and on TV.

This move by NBR may well be the 'nail in the coffin'

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Happy to continue with my other free online news services without NBR - only use it to ensure that one of my dozen or so online news feeds gets the news to me quickest - NBR seldom does.

I don't buy into your arguments at all - this is simply a revenue shortfall issue and you're annoyed that you have to pay people when others don't. Get off your high horses, start delivering high quality news that leads the market and I might consider renewing my hard copy subscription.

But up until yesterday, your online service looked like you were the the aggregation site!

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She's your first piece of news offered paid subscribers only.

You classify her news as information us "time-poor" businessmen must have?

Goodness - based on that 1 article alone I can the value of the paid content will also be filled with xmas stocking articles.

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Funny how at least two of the items in the 'Most Popular' side bar are paid content, there must have been a lot of sign-ups already..... I think not.
This model is flawed - it annoys your readers then they leave.

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Please label your Subscriber Only stories in the RSS feed so I don't bother clicking on them. Better yet, create a feed that doesn't even include them.

I think these should be free for print subscribers. I really don't see how this is worth $89.

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Go get stuffed Barry. This website has nothing to offer over any other business news site.

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Barry, if I want to read about Suzanne Paul i can buy the tabloids. I am astounded that you see this as being worthy of your first 'subscription' story.

Anyway, suggest you monitor the change in both your paid print subscriptions and online followers of NBR over the next month or so - a school child can tell you that it ain;t going to make pretty reading!

Still, as one of those 'time-poor' business-men you talk about, thanks for saving me 15 mins a day that I used to spending on the NBR email updates.

This could be the end of the NBR, ah well. Nice while it lasted but you are not providing a real USP to justify the charges online. Suzanne paul eh......

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My guess is the ex CEO at Fairfax & RWC87 winning captain has had a word in your ear & thats why your running with it.

However It doesnt work for the Fin Rev (afr.com) site. You just copy the headline into google & most times its on some other site.

It hasnrt worked for them & it didnt work for the WSJ.

Anyway in Aus people just buy the Fin Rev 6 days a week for $3 or most cafes have a fresh copy daily.

One company who will be happy is Media Monitors. For business clients why bother paying and logging in when they will just forward any stuff you need to your inbox

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Hmmmm - stories we need? - would these be the same stories that your journos tell me they are increasingly lifting straight from press releases because they dont have the time or the resources to produce "proper" stories due to the 4 stories a day regieme you have implemented in order to create the impression of Lotsa hot fresh content online??

Quality NOT quantity please....

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Obviously not! Not only have you decided to introduce a subscription charge but there was hardly any notification of it's introduction.

I don't see any value in the subscription charge. I've previously read the NBR emails to keep up to date with what is happening, but will now rely on other free services. No point in receiving the NBR service if you can't read half of it.

I feel aggrieved that our organisation pays for multiple print subsciptions each week, and are now expected to pay on-line subscriptions as well. I would have thought the on-line service could be free for those already providing you with significant revenue.

We won't be paying any on-line subscriptions, and will review our print subscriptions.

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My concern for your new subscription service is that it may only earn you the grand total of 80 cents per day from one single subscription.

That’s the true cost of providing every internet user on the planet exclusive access to your subscription only service, albeit with a 10-15 minute delay.

Good luck but no Thanks

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I'm going to pass on the subscription and perhaps on your site overall Barry until you have another think about this over a cup of tea.

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Cheerio Bazzer - NBR has just been taken off my site list.

By the way your comments about the role of bloggers are excremental - I have lost count of the number of poorly researched and clearly biased pieces turned out here by your so-called professional journos. The truth IS out there - but relatively little is available mainstream sites anymore.

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Hey guys get real.

If you have to have subscriber content then get the links off the free pages.

I have just bought a years subscription to the printed weekly, one thing I noticed straight away was how thin it had become. Don;t come back with "quality rather than quantity"

I enjoy reading the FREE content and commenting, but if the web pages clutter up or less free material is available to view for less time then I'll probably pay less attention to the site.

As Anonymous at 09:02 am says, Barry and Team need to come up with new and better value propositions not just clipping the ticket.

Take heed NBR, you are on a slippery slope.

Find another way to generate revenue from the web site, or your content. I for one would expect as a subscriber to the printed paper to get access to a "subscriber section" on the web.

The next fireworks display may not be on a float celebrating the family wedding, but the fall out from an ill conceived revenue capturing exercise.

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This does not seem to be an innovative step at all.

The NBR seemed to be heading towards quite an interesting model, which had more and more reader feedback, and interesting content.

The $149/six months is a regressive step. This is very steep for content, and does not seem to cater for those interested in reading a little of the content. There are far more innovative models that could have been taken, especially as the NBR was becoming a good forum for feedback. (For me a micropayment (e.g. 2c per page) would have been much more palatable.)

Good luck - but this could be the start of a death spiral. BTW - the NBR is not the WSJ....

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will be interesting to see if NBR bother to comment on this story in their next online bulletin. Firstly, if it not at the top of the 'most popular' stories then we will know that the NBR are just being misleading.

More importantly, anyone with a basic knowledge of the online world would realise that this would be a 'hot topic. Surprised that no-one for the NBR has tried to defend their position. Shows either arrogance and / or indifference - either way the NBR is doing a good job of trashing trashing all the hard work and good will they have gained form their online product.,

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Interesting how views of pages that are locked (subscriber only) count towards highest view counts. Does that mean that most people have decided to pay?

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@ Bruce
I can confirm Barry drives a much nicer car than Bruce at Aardvark

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Subscriber content! What a joke. NBR's online stats will die off the back of this. Not very attractive for advertisers when no one is hitting your site.

I will be pulling all future advertising off NBR, and putting it into other news sites - Im sure we wont be the only company. Way to shoot yourself in the foot.

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Bruce S has been a genius for over 10 years banging on about how he has all the answers to making money online.He's been such a great success (not). I'm sure Barry will be on the phone to him straightaway!.
Bold move Barry but good on you for giving it a go.

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Well Bob, I've made my living for the past 15 years through internet-based ventures (mainly news and commentary). How many others can claim that? How many such ventures have even broken even over that same timeframe?

I built a web-based news service that broke new ground and (thanks to innovation) surpassed most of the "big names" in the industry (globally) in terms of reach and unique visitors. I did that on a shoestring budget.

That venture was showcased by government at the 1999 APEC conference.

In 1999/2000 it was the world's most widely syndicated web-based news service with over 250,000 other sites taking its news-feed, and was raking in very good revenues at a time when other dot-coms were simply bleeding red ink.

I made just one mistake -- I tried to "keep it Kiwi" and sold it to a group of NZ investors who rode it into the ground through bad management and unethical dealings (more self promotion: read my book when it's released for all the gory details).

No, not genius but it does kind of prove my point that I do know online media and the marketplace in which it operates. I'm a digital media person who isn't shackled by preconceptions and beliefs born of an earlier era.

Since then I've been involved in a number of other ventures, some public, some not and I'm expecting to make a few quite significant announcements relating to at least two of those activities shortly.

I don't choose to drive around in a big expensive car -- I have other priorities.

Likewise, I don't see earning large sums of money as the sole metric for measuring my success -- although I fully expect to be earning a very healthy income within 12 months from now.

All I'm saying is that NBR is perfectly positioned to take some bold steps and actually turn their current success into some very strong revenue streams by exploiting brand new and innovative models. They *could* become a shining example of how to really exploit the digital medium using news as their currency to create profit.

As I've stated, I'd be happy to be a catalyst for such a transition because it's exciting stuff and there's such huge potential -- but nobody's holding a gun to anyone's head. I won't get my nose out of joint if nobody's interested.

If NBR want to live (and die) by clutching at the past like so many other mainstream publishers, that's their call.

Once I've got some of my current projects off my plate I will definitely implement my ideas alone if needs be.

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Were you drunk when you came up with this strategy Barry? You're behaving like Kodak when they refused to believe people would spurn film photography for digital. Adapt or die.

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If you want some cash for the articles on this site I suggest you stick the articles onto news print and pay A few kids to flog copies on street corners!

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No disrespect Barry, but perhaps like you, the NBR is passed its use-by-date? I use to be a weekly subscriber, then as the quality of the stories tapered off, I only brought the occassional copy from the corner dairy or, bookshop. I've been a daily online reader since day-one, but forget the pay-for-view model, it simply will not work and I ain't coming back. I also consider your comments regarding blog sites as arrogant and nieve, and really only underscores how out of touch you are with the real world. Thanks for the ride Barry, its been nice knowing you. NBR...RIP.

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you guys are knobs

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Barry

Here's a few ideas on how it could be done.

http://www.interest.co.nz/ratesblog/index.php/2009/07/17/opinion-how-to-...

cheers
Bernard

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Good luck with the pay for content model. I'll be sorry not to be able to access the site in full. I considered opting for a paid physical subscription after a free 1 month trial but did not find your content compelling enough.

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I don't the answer and if I did I would be rich. However, I do know this path is heading towards failure

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A few months ago I returned to the NBR website after an 8-year absence (since the last time Barry Colman tried to instigate a charging model). What drew me back were Chris Keall's excellent pieces of journalism on Tech.-related subjects.

If Barry decides to put a significant number of Chris's stories behind the paywall, then I just won't bother visiting the NBR site anymore. As many others have pointed out both here and elsewhere, there are plenty of other options.

I also think that Barry's tirade above against bloggers is unbelievable in its arrogance. It shows how bitter and out of touch he is.

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I'm sorry, but the tone of this 'article' is quite poor and flippant, and while I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt two things stopped me: calling Rupert Murdoch a 'legendary publisher' is only relevant if you mean he's good at ruining things (the Times has never been the same since he took ownership, Fox News is a joke, and Sky News isn't much better, no matter where you go). Secondly, the argument that us 'time-poor business' people will have access to more information, which is already available for free (or paid for through advertising time) is a logical contradiction. I already pay to read the paper version of NBR, with the website being more of an immediate update. Given that this site has become, recently, flooded with low-quality NZPA articles, which often are written no better than press releases, makes me wonder if any real journalism will be provided beyond what already goes into the paper edition. If that is the case, I don't mind waiting a few days extra to read a thorough article or catching brief snips on another site (much as that might dismay my sense of loyalty). So this appears to be dragging the NBR through the mud, creating ill-will, and for what real improvement in revenue?

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Thanks Barry

Like many of the other writers I can sympathise with your predicament. However, I think there may be just too many good, free alternatives out there for many people to want to subscribe. But good on you for giving it a go.

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I find it fascinating to see what is a very current debate outside NZ now being played out here.

Steve Brill recently spoke about this issue and indeed has suggested a model where a %, I think 10%, is behind a paywall for a period. http://bit.ly/3KXq5u

My concern is whether NBR can offer sufficient richness of content behind the paywall at an attractive price to make it worthwhile.

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Hi Barry,

As a nasty leaching blogger and news aggregator, I've considered your complaints and decided that, as of today, I'll no longer be linking to stories on the NBR website, nor will I be using them as the basis for opinion-pieces.

That's one nasty leaching blogger/aggregator down -- how many to go?

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I have to agree with most comments. I am a time poor business man, but I get over 50 individual RSS feeds on my Blackberry, and i wouldnt consider paying for any of it, as I am yet to see any exclusives on any of the feeds.
I think trying to get more users on the mobile site with the increase of netbooks, would be a start, not reducing the number through introducing a paid service

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What a lot of whining. Like it or not NZ is too small a market to support much in the way of quality journalism as anyone reading the Herald can confirm. NBR is a small circulation specialist paper and I for one would not want to see it go under.
Despite all the blogs it is a simple fact that good writing is not free as journalists - like most NBR readers - need to earn a crust. Unlike most of the posters on this topic i believe the NBR does contain plenty of good writing and has broken some big stories like the ones about finance companies. I am happy to pay the $89 and after 6 months I'll decide whether or not its good value. But it would be good if paying and registering and accessing the content were a bit easier ...

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Er, Barry...the only people who have made a success out of online subscriptions are a few music sites and the pron industry. Just how big a change are you making?

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Come on NBR / Barry.

You sent out the open letter, you have received several pages of replies, one or two positive. Overwhelmingly though most of the readers who have responded are negative.

Please get of your pedestle and pen a reply.

= We are pleased with the feedback and the rate of online subscriptions and intend to keep our course.
= We are surprised by the feedback and will respond in xxx days.
= We are going to modify our offering to ..........
= We need money send more

The NBR is not the first company to try and raise revenues during these tough times (read less advertising revnues), but you stand the risk of allienating your current readers who are the very people you need to keep firmly watching your content to keep advertising revenues flowing.

I am watching for a substantive and considered reply. If its not forthcoming and the "subscriber content" tags take up too much space on the NBR site I won't be watching for much longer. As I said in my original comment I have taken up a 1 year print subscription (surprised how small the paper has become) and feel you need to "add value" to those who are supporting the NBR now, and in todays instant information age double dipping is not going to win friends.

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Dear Barry,
I think it's the mix of publishing models that's the problem:
1) NBR print model - limited circulation but high readership per copy, high multiple-reference figures, high socio-economic figures, and highly-targeted business sector audiences. To offset this, the cover price is a reasonably substantial revenue stream (unlike dailies where it doesn't even cover the paper and ink).
2) NBR on-line - lots of clicks but none of the above in provable form. In the absence of proof, hard-nosed advertisers opt for volume. Most online publishers oblige - to hell with the quality, feel the width. . .
Some years ago a UK media researcher came up with a graph - socio-economic and other targeting factors in the vertical axis, circulation on the horizontal axis. All the current titles were in a band from The Times at top-left to the News of the World at bottom-right. The lesson was what lay below that band - all the papers which had folded over the last half-century, achieving neither targeted audience nor outright circulation.
Good luck to you with your pay-for-content model. It may help restore NZ's flagging standards of journalism and dwindling newsroom numbers.
More importantly, it may realign NBR's on-line audience with its print readership and justify targeted online advertising. You'll just need to invest in research to prove the shift in online audience demographics.

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From what I can see your page impressions are down significantly on last week.

July 13-19 - 175k
July 20-26 - 86k (so far)

With one day to make it up it doesn't look good. I guess you won't have to worry about ad revenue with all the subscribers you have signing up. Will your rate card be adjusted to refect the smaller audience?

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I would like to add a few well-intended comments. First, I cancelled my subscription to NBR many years ago because I felt it's stories lacked professionalism and sought sensationalism and in some cases were personal. The NBR naming the policeman at the centre of the Waitara shooting and then your vicious and persistent personal attacks on Donna Hall were the last straw (even though I have no time for her at all they attacks were unfair). If you had stuck to serious in-depth business stories as was once the case I would have continued to buy your information service.

Second point, I think you are wrong to say that free content does not work. Barry... you made it work when you published the Property Press freebies many years ago, and the community newspapers today still use that model. Their content attracts readers which attracts advertisers - that's the freebie formula.

Third point. I like others, will now migrant to reading online content elsewhere as it is irritating to be told that articles are subscriber only. You actually don't have unique content (or enough of it that is valuable) to justify the subscription.

Maybe NBR's organisational culture needs to focus back on being the very best provider of financial information.

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Is it just me or is there an unusually high rate of inaccuracy in the spelling etc. of these responses. How convenient. Since when are responses this universally zealous either? The word is 'Dodgy'.

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