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Why the NMG’s Electronic Editions Might Not Be a Good Move

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It’s a bright new day at Nation Center. Fresh from the dramatic culling of 100 indolent journalists from its newsroom, the Nation Media Group has pinged my media radar yet again. This time, however, I’m not immediately hostile to their new initiative.

The media behemoth has decided to offer electronic editions for five NMG titles. These will be replicas of the print copies, and will be available globally for a subscription fee, paid by cash or credit card. No, I don’t know about the electronic cash transfer, either: apparently there are “plans” to offer M-Pesa facilities, but these are not in place yet.

The electronic editions appear to be running on the Pressmart platform, and for what they are, they’re fine. Neither impressive, nor a lamentable travesty. They’re adequate. And free until February 15th; your pockets are safe until then.

I just have a few niggles with this new enterprise, but I’m absolutely sure the brains trust at NMG management have already thought of all of these:

  1. It is triflingly easy to bypass the Pressmart subscription controls. Trust me, I do it on a regular basis with other titles
  2. The content in the digital editions will be available on the respective websites gratis anyway, so where is the incentive to pay? We are heading into a downturn, after all
  3. Has NMG carried out any detailed analysis of its readers? Because some of the notions attributed to Ian Fernandes, head of the Nation Digital Division, sound decidedly shaky

Take this quote, for instance:

Globally, 70 per cent of readers have migrated online in search of more conveniently available news. This has led to leading newspapers such as The Guardian, The Telegraph and the  New York Times embracing the e-paper concept.

Now, do the NMG publications have a similar circulation of any of the cited titles? Do 70% of NMG readers have access to the internet? Are 70% of those readers able and willing to pay for the electronic editions of their chosen paper? I really hope the accounting department was involved before Mr. Fernandes signed off on this little project.

Let’s take the Guardian as an example, as it’s “my” paper and I am very familiar with how its electronic offerings have grown and changed in recent years.

According to the latest available figures, the Gruan (it’s an affectionate nickname, please bear with me) has a circulation of 346,632 with a readership of 1,272,000. Online, it has 218.8 million page impressions per month and 26 million unique users, of whom 10.1 million are UK-based. That’s per month.

NMG declines to publish any circulation data on it’s corporate website – well, none that I can find – so I’m unable to make any direct comparisons. In addition, I couldn’t find any Gruan data on the number of subscribers to the electronic edition, but I can tell you this: its crosswords, which are hugely popular, used to be free. Then they began charging around £5 a month to access them. Today, they are free again. I guess that not enough people were willing to pay for them, no matter how many angry emails were sent to the saintly Emily Bell. They are perservering with the electronic editions, however, which leads me to believe that there is demand for them.

I really hope that NMG management have done their sums, analysed their readership demographics and offered sacrifices to whichever gods they worship over at Nation Center before going ahead with this. Otherwise they could find themselves stuck with a very expensive white elephant that drains valuable cash. My suggestion? Start something like the Gruan’s Soulmates section instead; almost impossible not to make money off something like that.

[Image by Picture Taker 2]

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