Why can’t I subscribe to quality local NZ media?

I would pay for local, digital news, but there are no easy ways to do that. Why is it so hard?

I live in New Zealand where we have two large national newspaper brands: the New Zealand Herald and Stuff.co.nz. (side note: these brands are actually trying to merge at the moment)

I subscribe to the New York Times, but if I want to support a local paper I have unsatisfactory options. Neither of the big NZ brands offer digital subscriptions. Beyond giving local papers ad impressions, the only way to support them is to buy a physical newspaper subscription!

Both of these brands have gone ‘all in’ with an advertising-only business model. As physical newspaper subscriptions inevitably fall, these two big brands are hoping that advertising revenues will fill the void. I’m no expert on media economics, but this decision doesn’t seem very sensible.

One reason is that many internet users have ad-blockers or tracking protection enabled. When these users visit a NZ news site they’re not generating any revenue.

(Personally, when I browse the web I use some form of “tracking protection”. I’m not opposed to advertising but I am opposed to the dodgy practice of tracking my browsing habits across the web. That’s not okay — even if it is an established business model. Because dodgy tracking of users is so common on the Internet, tracking protection has the practical effect of removing almost all ads. But it doesn’t have to be that way.)

New Zealand may be a small media market, but isn’t there something to be gained by giving users the option of subscribing to digital news packages?

For instance, Stuff.co.nz could offer users ad-free access to its site for something like $120 per year. That would probably be much more than they get from displaying advertising to users, and what have they got to lose? (except for the costs of setting up the subscription system). Surely there must be some people in the same situation as me who could generate a non-trivial amount of much needed revenue.

Postscript: there are some new experiments in the NZ media landscape, including Press Patron (of which I am a user). This tool is a good step towards paying directly for news through subscriptions, but has only been embraced by niche players so far.

Further reading

They Never Even Tried For Value“, Brooks Review, 2015

“Facebook is not the answer to publishers’ prayers, it yet another nail in their coffin.”, Bill Bennett, 2016

5 thoughts on “Why can’t I subscribe to quality local NZ media?”

  1. There is always the NBR. The problem for Stuff and NZ Herald is down to the prisoner’s dialemma, both fear that who-ever moves first will lose all the advertising revenue. If you ask me, it’s a risk worth taking. Maybe that’s why I don’t run Fairfax or NZME.


    1. Yeah I read the NBR a lot at work but it doesn’t really have much coverage of issues beyond business, politics and tech. I agree there’s a dilemma regarding paywalls but if they started charging for an ad free experience that might be different…

      Liked by 1 person

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