Publisher puts a cat among the pigeons

Todd Scott: "Bold is 100,000 [subscribers] which is where I see us going. We will do that by getting journalists and contributors people respect behind the paywall"

RNZ's Colin Peacock grills NBR publisher Todd Scott about his rising social media profile and a push or 100,000 subs

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Todd Scott took charge at the National Business Review – New Zealand’s biggest weekly business newspaper and most-read news website dedicated to business – five years ago. He bought out its longtime publisher Barry Colman after serving as NBR's chief executive and sales chief. 

Since then he's been mostly behind the scenes, but recently he’s become almost as vocal and visible as he was as a radio host and TV2's Lotto guy alongside Hillary Timmins in the late 1990s.

"I'm actually petrified of reading out loud. I'd pack my pants on Saturday night when we went live on TV2 and I had to read from the autocue," he said. 

Todd Scott has been saying all sorts of things out loud lately though. 

He was in the headlines last month when NBR suddenly canned the weekly column by Sir Robert Jones after pulling a supposedly satirical piece about race relations from its website.

He then tweeted his own reporters:

Earlier this month Todd Scott suddenly declared he no longer wanted political and business insiders “paid to push a point of view.”   

"Update to newsroom: Member Subscribers trust & respect the integrity of @TheNBR Its you they trust to cut through the PR crap, misinformation and out and out lies in search of the truth," he wrote on Twitter this time.

 

That decision followed a controversial column by political commentator and lobbyist Matthew Hooton which was highly critical of former National Party minister Steven Joyce – critical enough for Steven Joyce's lawyers to threaten to sue.

In comments to media – and more tweets – Todd Scott said he would defend any legal action and he backed the writer he’d just cut from NBR. He criticised the two news outlets that revealed the contents of the legal letter.

All this followed another Twitter salvo back in February at advertising agencies who place ads in the NBR for a cut of the money.

"You okay, man?" Newsroom's Tim Murphy asked recently on Twitter, in response to "all this personal-corporate-editorial angst being played out in public." 

"Never better," Todd Scott tweeted back.

What's he up to? 

The common thread in all this bullishness is his insistence that paying subscribers are the critical source of revenue as advertising dwindles and comes with more strings attached.  

The weekly print edition of NBR doesn’t sell as well as it used to but NBR makes much more money online than five years ago. More than 5000 people and businesses currently subscribe to its digital offering.

Only those who pay $35 a month – and businesses who plump for an in-house subscription giving online access to employees – can see NBR’s exclusive content online, which now includes new video and audio every day. 

One of many stories about the controversy stirred up by Sir Robert's reflection on Waitangi Day. Photo: screenshot

Todd Scott says NBR's first target is to double the roster of paying subscribers. 

A bold goal?

"Not at all. Bold is 100,000, which is where I see us going eventually. We have to knock over 10,000 first. We'll comfortably do that within 18 months, which will make us the undisputed champion of business news in New Zealand," he told Mediawatch.

But  NBR surely won't pull in a paying audience as big as that of the New Zealand Herald with a diet of only business news.

"We will get to 10,000 offering business news. To get to 30,000 we will need to broaden," he told Mediawatch. 

"We will do that by getting journalists and contributors people respect behind the paywall. They will work for us because they can do the job for our subscribers without commercial restraints such as sponsorship or advertising," he said. 

Todd Scott says hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in a new website to launch in June, which will make more of the NBR Radio audio content and NBR View video content.

The latter features familiar names from TVNZ such as Susan Wood and Simon Dallow. The content's not as elaborate or expensive at TV but is it paying off?

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts," Todd Scott replied. 

Does that mean not many people are listening or watching? 

"The numbers … are not as important as giving our member subscribers timely, relevant and useful business news whether it's text, audio or visual – and we will deliver that," he said. 

Todd Scott recently told the Herald  "pimply faced teenagers" from ad agencies were doing a bad job of selling space in NBR.

Earlier this month he featured in a video on NBR's site demonstrating how he ties his shiny shoes. 

Why is he is taking on advertising agencies that can still provide important income while he strives to hook more subscribers?  

"Some ill-informed people are doing a poor job and we have called them out. We are being misrepresented. The agencies try to beat us down on price and we are strong enough to stand up to them," he said.  

"Like Rod Drury (CEO of Xero) I'm not necessarily the best person for the job going forward but I certainly have a passionate belief in the job that needs to be done, and its a different job expected of us in the past  … funded by member subscribers," he told Mediawatch. 

This article was first published on rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission.


29 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.


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29 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

I’m probably old fashioned, but as a paid digital subscriber, I mainly read the printed articles and do not often listen to NBR radio or view video as I find it too time-consuming.

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Hi Gcr -- each to their own: NBR is giving readers the choice how they consume a story. Having said that, I'd encourage you to check out some NBR Radio or View content. You might find it adds to your perspective. Try Tim Hunter talking to Susan Wood about the Mad Butcher shambles (https://www.nbr.co.nz/article/clash-over-mad-butcher-debt-veritas-vote-t...) or Grant Walker's best Radio interviews of the week compilation (https://m.soundcloud.com/nbr-radio/nbr-radio-the-best-interviews-updated...).

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Will do,when I have the time!

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Todd Scott’s opinion has guaranteed my subscription, which was under review due to the paid rubbish. I thought an apparent recent change had occurred, did not know about the tweets.

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Todd Scott is right. Subscriptions are the future, and indeed, is already the present.
Digital creates targeted content on both sides of the equation, the content producer and the subscriber.
I don't usually do subscriber. I'm still an internet surfer, but have become a selective subscriber for quality content. NBR is not the first publication I've subscribed to, but will not be the last. Local and international are the two key categories that drive me, and am tossing up over The Australian and The WSJ next.
Any advice?

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Graeme, subscribe to The Australian, and you get the WSJ for free. The WSJ is delivered very slickly on tablet, The Australian not so much so

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My hubby reckons the way the biased bought & paid for MSM reports business news, *NBR* will easily double or triple its subscription readership in no time. His Company has been an online subscriber since inception......just he wont let on his password for fear I might comment under his name.

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*turns in grave*

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It must be killing you not knowing it. How dare he have a secret and all that.

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At the moment, you are competing against free news sources. But when the Herald introduces their paywall, a lot of their readers will start looking for better news for their money.

And a possible new feature- Give paying subscribers the ability to send 1 time use links to non subscribers to read 1 article. You could limit this to a max of say 1 free article link per week. But it would be a form of network marketing. As your current subscribers would be putting articles of interest directly in front of potential subscribers.

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Hi Andrew - with our mid-year upgrade, we'll add the ability to access two articles free per week. CK

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That's great.
Being able to easily copy and paste text again will make for better comments and tweets/posts. Please don't let a few rule breakers ruin the experience for the rest of us. The AFR learned this lesson the hard way years ago.

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You make a good point Lance, as Chris mentioned in an earlier comment, we will add the ability to access two paid content articles per week for anyone who is not a Member Subscriber. So it’s timely that we re consider the cut & paste restrictions. 

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Agree 1000%.

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Who reads the Herald these days anyway, it's all ads.

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I say about time as long as the NBR is consistent

The best recent change has been getting rid of Matthew Hooton and the rise of Tim Hunter who is a pure bred journalist - an investigative journalist - which NZ hasn't seen for years. In respect to politics this was probably due to the John Key years when he was so inclusive and had them all in his pocket with taxpayer funded trips on Air force One around NZ and the world.

NBR also needs to widen its readership and attract the younger generation as subscribers - maybe via apps or news feeds rather than just online and the printed version

I say well done Todd - ballsy but the only way to go

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Agree with the comments so far. The sooner I can get rid of buying the Herald, the better. It's a rag and a politically biased rag, including its Cartoonists and its opinion commentators. However, NBR could do with a little more financial news and commentary on current market issues. Not the the Herald does it well! However, I haven't used the radio reports and assume, for example, that the Veritas interview provides the commentary. For busy people I agree that the radio service is time consuming and even a summary of what is in the radio commentary would be helpful.

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I appreciate your feedback Norman, it’s an interesting observation because the very reason we introduced audio was because of just how busy our Members were. Our rationale was that if you are too busy to read or view something, then audio on-demand would allow you to listen while you are in the car, walking or exercising. Our new site will enable you to more easily create a downloadable self selected podcast. Rest assured that we are mindful of just how supper busy our Member Subscribers are, this is why we continue to strive for innovation that supports your busy lifestyle. 

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Todd, see your rationale but I am with Norman as you can't actually tune out of work and listen whereas can take micro-breaks and scroll through an article.
Maybe possible to do a 30 or 60 seconds summary audio of the whole audio interview?

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Hi RC,

The team read your comments and were already discussing executing something alongs your suggested lines as I entered the newsroom this morning. Appreciate the feddback. 

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No disrespect to NZME and Stuff but it seems they have lost complete vision of their core business and peddle anything from garbage to gossip.
The success of the NBR is due to its single minded pursuit of journalistic integrity, never loose sight of this and your audience will only increase. I wish you every success Scott & team

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Case in point, today's opinion piece by Tess Nicol, assumptions and generalizations, not a shred of journalism....... not difficult to see why these media organizations are failing when they alienate those who can think.

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Personally I get tired of the constant feminist propaganda appearing in Stuff although I see NBR is not entirely immune either with a few marginal and light weight articles focusing on gender based board diversity

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Jemy Ruth's work on Fletchers confirmed that subscribing was the way to go. I also don't have time to listen to podcasts. Even when I could (on the train) I take reading news Amy day! Video and Audio is for those that might be busy but not in a regular job, but for the rest of us, I'm not convinced. I subscribe to the afr and I like the higher focus on text and pictures. Not to mention the copy and paste. I also like the strong coverage on the Markets. I can justify the nbr on a mobile only subscription on top of my afr subscription but wouldn't be able to justify a 'full' subscription to both. That the nbr is a 'principled' news organization is reason enough to support it! Keep it up guys! Dave :-)

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I'll subscribe to NBR when they give accurate reporting as to what's happening on MAFS. Some of us need to know.

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I've just accessed Stuff's coverage (here) and I'm afraid there's just no way we can compete.

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Thank <readers' preferred deity> for that, Chris.

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Agreed! But I desire more articles about 'the latest hot product' at Kmart. Or is that from another publication?

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I’m a believer - keep up the good work!!!

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