NBR's marketing fail

The only thing we have to fear

Okay, so the NBR wants us to pay $298 a year for their content. And why?

Because … well, that’s where it starts to get a bit vague.

In an email to NBR subscribers, publisher Barry Colman offers two very loose paragraphs explaining the new paid offering … then spends four paragraph explaining the NBR’s problems (as well as the problems facing the whole news industry).

Worse, he then lambastes part of his audience (bloggers), calling them (us!) a huge band of amateur, untrained, unqualified bloggers who have swarmed over the internet pouring out columns of unsubstantiated “facts” and hysterical opinion.

Gee thanks, Barry.

Where’s the vision? Where is the value of what you’re doing? And why are you telling us more about your problems than your solutions?

Sure, the news industry faces big problems. And yes, citizen journalism has severely disrupted the established way of doing things. It happens! It’s happening in many industries around the world.

How do we face these problems, with fear or creativity? Can the two co-exist?

Instead of seeing bloggers as (a) a single group of people, and (b) the enemy, wouldn’t it be great if the NBR recognised that bloggers make up part of their readership, and started to dream of ways to collaborate with bloggers – many of whom don’t consider themselves direct competitors to paid, professional journalists.

Dream? That’s a bit of a “soft” word, isn’t it? It’s a bit “touchy-feely”. Not the hard kind of words that business people – especially in New Zealand – like to use, so we sound serious and businesslike and unflappable.

In order to survive we’re going to have to get a lot more soft, and start thinking of dreams and visions. We’re going to have to start thinking about the people we serve, and how we can co-operate with them to create a great outcome for us both.

And, Barry, that goes a long way beyond just asking for our money – and then insulting us.

What do you think?

Is this a marketing fail – and indeed a failure of vision and leadership – from NBR? Or is this a very canny move, calculated to appeal to the ignorance and fear of those who agree with Colman’s blogophobia? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

More info

I’ve focused on the marketing story here. Others have covered questions of business model and journalism very well:

Thanks to Tropical Pete for the Creative Commons-licenced image!

56 thoughts on “NBR's marketing fail

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  • Karen Brown

    I do think this is a marketing/communications fail. There are opportunities here for NBR to support and reward loyal subscribers, and why not make ADDITIONAl content subscriber only? Commission some special insider reports that are of real value, do some research, bring us specialist content we can’t find on the aggregator sites, put up some white papers, docs in pdf format, slideshare content … tools of real value that people will be prepared to pay extra to access. There are multiple ways of creating value online – it just requires a different mindset from Barry’s. Perhaps it is simply time for him to retire and let the younger minds at NBR steer the ship for a while. Would love to know what Chris Keall really thinks about it all! (btw, your retweet button isn’t working right now)

    Reply
  • Karen Brown

    I do think this is a marketing/communications fail. There are opportunities here for NBR to support and reward loyal subscribers, and why not make ADDITIONAl content subscriber only? Commission some special insider reports that are of real value, do some research, bring us specialist content we can’t find on the aggregator sites, put up some white papers, docs in pdf format, slideshare content … tools of real value that people will be prepared to pay extra to access. There are multiple ways of creating value online – it just requires a different mindset from Barry’s. Perhaps it is simply time for him to retire and let the younger minds at NBR steer the ship for a while. Would love to know what Chris Keall really thinks about it all! (btw, your retweet button isn’t working right now)

    Reply
  • Karen Brown

    I do think this is a marketing/communications fail. There are opportunities here for NBR to support and reward loyal subscribers, and why not make ADDITIONAl content subscriber only? Commission some special insider reports that are of real value, do some research, bring us specialist content we can’t find on the aggregator sites, put up some white papers, docs in pdf format, slideshare content … tools of real value that people will be prepared to pay extra to access. There are multiple ways of creating value online – it just requires a different mindset from Barry’s. Perhaps it is simply time for him to retire and let the younger minds at NBR steer the ship for a while. Would love to know what Chris Keall really thinks about it all! (btw, your retweet button isn’t working right now)

    Reply
  • Karen Brown

    I do think this is a marketing/communications fail. There are opportunities here for NBR to support and reward loyal subscribers, and why not make ADDITIONAl content subscriber only? Commission some special insider reports that are of real value, do some research, bring us specialist content we can’t find on the aggregator sites, put up some white papers, docs in pdf format, slideshare content … tools of real value that people will be prepared to pay extra to access. There are multiple ways of creating value online – it just requires a different mindset from Barry’s. Perhaps it is simply time for him to retire and let the younger minds at NBR steer the ship for a while. Would love to know what Chris Keall really thinks about it all! (btw, your retweet button isn’t working right now)

    Reply
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  • Simon

    Thanks Karen, great comments and great ideas!

    If NBR focused on building creative relationships with their audience, they might get exposed to some of this creative thinking. And you’re right, there are some great young minds within NBR as well.

    The retweet button seems to be working okay now – not sure what happened there.

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Karen, great comments and great ideas!

    If NBR focused on building creative relationships with their audience, they might get exposed to some of this creative thinking. And you’re right, there are some great young minds within NBR as well.

    The retweet button seems to be working okay now – not sure what happened there.

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Karen, great comments and great ideas!

    If NBR focused on building creative relationships with their audience, they might get exposed to some of this creative thinking. And you’re right, there are some great young minds within NBR as well.

    The retweet button seems to be working okay now – not sure what happened there.

    Reply
  • Alex Mann

    They have failed to recognise that many of the on-line readers will and would never probably buy their physical publication and have instead succcessfully alienated us from their brand.

    The majority of people that need the news/information would have probably already been buying the paper anyway, just as I do with the Fast Company Mag or my cycling mags… even though I could read all the articles on line….why because I can’t take my computer to the dunny or sit in bed or lie on the deck chair or the bean bag and enjoy a good read…

    Reply
    • Simon

      This is true, although print is starting to slip away. You’re slowly becoming a minority, and with iPhones and (eventually, please God) Kindles, we’ll be able to read blogs on the loo too.

      Reply
  • Alex Mann

    They have failed to recognise that many of the on-line readers will and would never probably buy their physical publication and have instead succcessfully alienated us from their brand.

    The majority of people that need the news/information would have probably already been buying the paper anyway, just as I do with the Fast Company Mag or my cycling mags… even though I could read all the articles on line….why because I can’t take my computer to the dunny or sit in bed or lie on the deck chair or the bean bag and enjoy a good read…

    Reply
    • Simon

      This is true, although print is starting to slip away. You’re slowly becoming a minority, and with iPhones and (eventually, please God) Kindles, we’ll be able to read blogs on the loo too.

      Reply
  • Alex Mann

    They have failed to recognise that many of the on-line readers will and would never probably buy their physical publication and have instead succcessfully alienated us from their brand.

    The majority of people that need the news/information would have probably already been buying the paper anyway, just as I do with the Fast Company Mag or my cycling mags… even though I could read all the articles on line….why because I can’t take my computer to the dunny or sit in bed or lie on the deck chair or the bean bag and enjoy a good read…

    Reply
    • Simon

      This is true, although print is starting to slip away. You’re slowly becoming a minority, and with iPhones and (eventually, please God) Kindles, we’ll be able to read blogs on the loo too.

      Reply
  • Alex Mann

    They have failed to recognise that many of the on-line readers will and would never probably buy their physical publication and have instead succcessfully alienated us from their brand.

    The majority of people that need the news/information would have probably already been buying the paper anyway, just as I do with the Fast Company Mag or my cycling mags… even though I could read all the articles on line….why because I can’t take my computer to the dunny or sit in bed or lie on the deck chair or the bean bag and enjoy a good read…

    Reply
    • Simon

      This is true, although print is starting to slip away. You’re slowly becoming a minority, and with iPhones and (eventually, please God) Kindles, we’ll be able to read blogs on the loo too.

      Reply
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  • SocialSammy

    Great post Simon. It seems like the accountants had too much influence over this strategic decision. While I’ve got a lot of love for accountants, they shouldn’t be involved in discussions of ‘free’…because most of them just don’t get it.

    Having said this, there are some subscription models that work; The Mckinsey Quarterly runs a freemium business model whereby most of the content is free and the niche readers at the top end pay for subscriptions to the highest level of content. I have no fundamental problem with this…but the NBR is not the Mckinsey Quarterly, they’re remarkably different entities.

    McKinsey specialises in business strategy (has a huger global audience) and has a consulting arm which is where the large majority of its income is generated – so their free articles double as advertising for their consultancy services. Whereas the NBR simply specialises in business news – this is where I think it gets really tricky for the NBR.

    If other news sources such as flossy.com can generate a healthy living from advertising revenue then why can’t the NBR? It’s because they have a Niche audience – top level NZ business men and women (which is a relatively small readership).

    Like the NBR, The Wall Street Journal specialise in business news, but the reason that their online model works is because it attracts enough eyeballs to make advertising with the WSJ profitable – making readers pay for NBR online will only reduce the number of eyeballs – moving it further away from free.

    While they may be able to move into specialist studies and attempt to collaborate with their readers/bloggers they are still facing a fundamental paradigm shift – where I have access to the WSJ, Time, BBC etc all for free…so why would I pay for the NBR? In my mid 20’s will never ever pay for news – so what happens in 50 years from now when my parents and grandparents are no longer around to be duped into paying for content that should be free??? NBR = Fail

    Simon I think the image on your post sums up the strategy very well. While the NBR could pull something out of its bag of tricks (as Karen has suggested) – at the moment they’re just ignoring the fact that their readers now have access to the worlds media (free of charge) and that there is an expectation that news will be supported by ads. NBR’s content doesn’t seem suited to freemium and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them go back to completely ad supported articles…perhaps they’ll develop a consultancy business who know. Will be interesting to watch this play out.

    This is a perfect example of decision makers failing to look at how ‘free’ can make sense for them…this conversation has been picked up by Seth Goddin in relation to Chris Andersons new book “Free” http://www.squidoo.com/the-free-debate

    Reply
    • Simon

      Thanks Sam for that thoughtful analysis (!)

      I think you’re right, NBR may well be after an audience too small to profit from using the tactics they appear to be using.

      TVNZ and NZ Herald have tried Freemium before and decided against it, but they reach a mass audience. Would a business audience be any more likely to pay? Who knows. In this current environment, I seriously doubt it.

      Thanks for the Seth Godin link! This is an interesting debate to watch, participate in and make stuff out of.

      Reply
  • SocialSammy

    Great post Simon. It seems like the accountants had too much influence over this strategic decision. While I’ve got a lot of love for accountants, they shouldn’t be involved in discussions of ‘free’…because most of them just don’t get it.

    Having said this, there are some subscription models that work; The Mckinsey Quarterly runs a freemium business model whereby most of the content is free and the niche readers at the top end pay for subscriptions to the highest level of content. I have no fundamental problem with this…but the NBR is not the Mckinsey Quarterly, they’re remarkably different entities.

    McKinsey specialises in business strategy (has a huger global audience) and has a consulting arm which is where the large majority of its income is generated – so their free articles double as advertising for their consultancy services. Whereas the NBR simply specialises in business news – this is where I think it gets really tricky for the NBR.

    If other news sources such as flossy.com can generate a healthy living from advertising revenue then why can’t the NBR? It’s because they have a Niche audience – top level NZ business men and women (which is a relatively small readership).

    Like the NBR, The Wall Street Journal specialise in business news, but the reason that their online model works is because it attracts enough eyeballs to make advertising with the WSJ profitable – making readers pay for NBR online will only reduce the number of eyeballs – moving it further away from free.

    While they may be able to move into specialist studies and attempt to collaborate with their readers/bloggers they are still facing a fundamental paradigm shift – where I have access to the WSJ, Time, BBC etc all for free…so why would I pay for the NBR? In my mid 20’s will never ever pay for news – so what happens in 50 years from now when my parents and grandparents are no longer around to be duped into paying for content that should be free??? NBR = Fail

    Simon I think the image on your post sums up the strategy very well. While the NBR could pull something out of its bag of tricks (as Karen has suggested) – at the moment they’re just ignoring the fact that their readers now have access to the worlds media (free of charge) and that there is an expectation that news will be supported by ads. NBR’s content doesn’t seem suited to freemium and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them go back to completely ad supported articles…perhaps they’ll develop a consultancy business who know. Will be interesting to watch this play out.

    This is a perfect example of decision makers failing to look at how ‘free’ can make sense for them…this conversation has been picked up by Seth Goddin in relation to Chris Andersons new book “Free” http://www.squidoo.com/the-free-debate

    Reply
    • Simon

      Thanks Sam for that thoughtful analysis (!)

      I think you’re right, NBR may well be after an audience too small to profit from using the tactics they appear to be using.

      TVNZ and NZ Herald have tried Freemium before and decided against it, but they reach a mass audience. Would a business audience be any more likely to pay? Who knows. In this current environment, I seriously doubt it.

      Thanks for the Seth Godin link! This is an interesting debate to watch, participate in and make stuff out of.

      Reply
  • SocialSammy

    Great post Simon. It seems like the accountants had too much influence over this strategic decision. While I’ve got a lot of love for accountants, they shouldn’t be involved in discussions of ‘free’…because most of them just don’t get it.

    Having said this, there are some subscription models that work; The Mckinsey Quarterly runs a freemium business model whereby most of the content is free and the niche readers at the top end pay for subscriptions to the highest level of content. I have no fundamental problem with this…but the NBR is not the Mckinsey Quarterly, they’re remarkably different entities.

    McKinsey specialises in business strategy (has a huger global audience) and has a consulting arm which is where the large majority of its income is generated – so their free articles double as advertising for their consultancy services. Whereas the NBR simply specialises in business news – this is where I think it gets really tricky for the NBR.

    If other news sources such as flossy.com can generate a healthy living from advertising revenue then why can’t the NBR? It’s because they have a Niche audience – top level NZ business men and women (which is a relatively small readership).

    Like the NBR, The Wall Street Journal specialise in business news, but the reason that their online model works is because it attracts enough eyeballs to make advertising with the WSJ profitable – making readers pay for NBR online will only reduce the number of eyeballs – moving it further away from free.

    While they may be able to move into specialist studies and attempt to collaborate with their readers/bloggers they are still facing a fundamental paradigm shift – where I have access to the WSJ, Time, BBC etc all for free…so why would I pay for the NBR? In my mid 20’s will never ever pay for news – so what happens in 50 years from now when my parents and grandparents are no longer around to be duped into paying for content that should be free??? NBR = Fail

    Simon I think the image on your post sums up the strategy very well. While the NBR could pull something out of its bag of tricks (as Karen has suggested) – at the moment they’re just ignoring the fact that their readers now have access to the worlds media (free of charge) and that there is an expectation that news will be supported by ads. NBR’s content doesn’t seem suited to freemium and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them go back to completely ad supported articles…perhaps they’ll develop a consultancy business who know. Will be interesting to watch this play out.

    This is a perfect example of decision makers failing to look at how ‘free’ can make sense for them…this conversation has been picked up by Seth Goddin in relation to Chris Andersons new book “Free” http://www.squidoo.com/the-free-debate

    Reply
    • Simon

      Thanks Sam for that thoughtful analysis (!)

      I think you’re right, NBR may well be after an audience too small to profit from using the tactics they appear to be using.

      TVNZ and NZ Herald have tried Freemium before and decided against it, but they reach a mass audience. Would a business audience be any more likely to pay? Who knows. In this current environment, I seriously doubt it.

      Thanks for the Seth Godin link! This is an interesting debate to watch, participate in and make stuff out of.

      Reply
  • Scott

    The Old-Stream Media was doomed years ago. Anyhow, the big corporates that run Old-Stream newspapers and magazines are too bureaucratic, political and slow to adjust to what the Internet market now demands: instant, truthful, trustworthy news. Bloggers can provide that, and will continue to prevail. NBR, you just wrote your own obit.

    Reply
    • Simon

      Thanks Scott. I tend to disagree. It’s rarely as black-and-white as that, and I know a few people within NBR who have a good handle on this space. And news organisations do provide the bulk of information that then gets commented on in blogs – it’s a symbiotic relationship, not a competitive one (well, at the best of times it’s like that).

      It’s important for our society that some form of professional news gathering survives. But I think it’s a more nuanced argument than “old media is bad, new media and blogging are more authentic”.

      Reply
  • Scott

    The Old-Stream Media was doomed years ago. Anyhow, the big corporates that run Old-Stream newspapers and magazines are too bureaucratic, political and slow to adjust to what the Internet market now demands: instant, truthful, trustworthy news. Bloggers can provide that, and will continue to prevail. NBR, you just wrote your own obit.

    Reply
  • Scott

    The Old-Stream Media was doomed years ago. Anyhow, the big corporates that run Old-Stream newspapers and magazines are too bureaucratic, political and slow to adjust to what the Internet market now demands: instant, truthful, trustworthy news. Bloggers can provide that, and will continue to prevail. NBR, you just wrote your own obit.

    Reply
    • Simon

      Thanks Scott. I tend to disagree. It’s rarely as black-and-white as that, and I know a few people within NBR who have a good handle on this space. And news organisations do provide the bulk of information that then gets commented on in blogs – it’s a symbiotic relationship, not a competitive one (well, at the best of times it’s like that).

      It’s important for our society that some form of professional news gathering survives. But I think it’s a more nuanced argument than “old media is bad, new media and blogging are more authentic”.

      Reply
  • Nathaniel Flick

    If it didn’t work for the New York times (the paid subscription for content model) then it’s certainly not going to work for NBR!

    Smearing bloggers is a cheap and easy (and immature) way of making NBR appear more “newsworthy” and therefore more valuable; the only way NBR sees it can gain credibility to charge for content.

    Shame on them for attacking the very community they need to use to help them grow.

    I think if they had just said, “pay $1/day for our content and you’ll also receive…” they’d get a much better response than sticking their tongue out at bloggers like school children.

    Great thoughts, iJump.

    Reply
  • Nathaniel Flick

    If it didn’t work for the New York times (the paid subscription for content model) then it’s certainly not going to work for NBR!

    Smearing bloggers is a cheap and easy (and immature) way of making NBR appear more “newsworthy” and therefore more valuable; the only way NBR sees it can gain credibility to charge for content.

    Shame on them for attacking the very community they need to use to help them grow.

    I think if they had just said, “pay $1/day for our content and you’ll also receive…” they’d get a much better response than sticking their tongue out at bloggers like school children.

    Great thoughts, iJump.

    Reply
  • Nathaniel Flick

    If it didn’t work for the New York times (the paid subscription for content model) then it’s certainly not going to work for NBR!

    Smearing bloggers is a cheap and easy (and immature) way of making NBR appear more “newsworthy” and therefore more valuable; the only way NBR sees it can gain credibility to charge for content.

    Shame on them for attacking the very community they need to use to help them grow.

    I think if they had just said, “pay $1/day for our content and you’ll also receive…” they’d get a much better response than sticking their tongue out at bloggers like school children.

    Great thoughts, iJump.

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Nate! You’ve really hit it on the head = they’ve not only insulted part of their audience, but failed to provide a simple (eg. $1 a day) offering. It’s all or nothing.

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Nate! You’ve really hit it on the head = they’ve not only insulted part of their audience, but failed to provide a simple (eg. $1 a day) offering. It’s all or nothing.

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Nate! You’ve really hit it on the head = they’ve not only insulted part of their audience, but failed to provide a simple (eg. $1 a day) offering. It’s all or nothing.

    Reply
  • Nathaniel Flick

    More insult (and ignorance of the current market) here. John Gruber analyses the creator of “The Wire”‘s suggestion that all newspapers close their free web content immediately:

    http://daringfireball.net/2009/07/pay_walls

    Reply
  • Nathaniel Flick

    More insult (and ignorance of the current market) here. John Gruber analyses the creator of “The Wire”‘s suggestion that all newspapers close their free web content immediately:

    http://daringfireball.net/2009/07/pay_walls

    Reply
  • Nathaniel Flick

    More insult (and ignorance of the current market) here. John Gruber analyses the creator of “The Wire”‘s suggestion that all newspapers close their free web content immediately:

    http://daringfireball.net/2009/07/pay_walls

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Nathaniel!

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Nathaniel!

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Nathaniel!

    Reply
  • Simon

    Thanks Nathaniel!

    Reply

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