Sometimes publishers need to get out of their comfort zone to discover new audiences and widen their reach.

Four news organisations spoke at INMA Media Innovation Week (23 September 2019) in Hamburg about experimenting with new tools to expand their pool of readers and re-engage the existing ones.

Converting readers to paying subscribers

Mittmedia, Sweden’s leading local media company, took a closer look at when and how readers choose to become paying subscribers.

It found that that 20 per cent of conversions happen in the first 60 minutes, so it tested a timed paywall that locks content after the reader has spent one hour on the website.

This approach allowed Mittmedia to leverage social sharing, as readers’ friends and followers were more exposed not only to content but also to calls for subscription, said Thomas Sundgren, head of the Mittmedia and Reacher marketing and advertising solutions.

Mittmedia is not the first publisher experimenting with a "time wall"; Swiss news site NZZ has been trying a similar approach, examining user behaviour and launching a flexible 'pay-gate'.

Swiss startup with a hard paywall

Launched in January 2018 after a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign, the Swiss digital magazine Republik that covers news, society, culture, economy and politics has built a dedicated member community of more than 18,000 users.

Payments from the community allows Republik to cover 72.5 per cent of its operational costs, said Miriam Walther, managing director. The website is fully paywalled and a monthly or yearly subscription is needed to access it.

This revenue model allows the news site to be more independent, transparent and produce higher quality content, said Walther. The downside of being a successful media startup is that "everything happens at the same time" and the team has to resist the urge to do too much too quickly.

Crowdfunding is not without its risks as the publisher relies on the community to renew their memberships every year. With the subscription prices that range from pay-what-you-can to around £800 a year for patron members, there is always the danger of losing important parts of their revenue stream. In January 2019, just over 60 per cent of readers renewed their membership.

Reaching the 20-29-year-olds

German publisher Die Zeit celebrated its twentieth anniversary by launching an event to engage with its young readers.

Z2X - Z for Zeit and 2X as 20-something - is a two-day festival that features more than 100 sessions and attracts more than 1,000 attendants in its second year.

Young speakers pitch their own ideas and the audience votes for their favourite topics and projects at the end, not unlike the ‘Think Ins’ launched by The Tortoise.

This allows Die Zeit to offer a platform to their most dedicated young readers and let them set the agenda. Popular topics include science, politics, Europe, environmental and social issues.

"Die Zeit successfully engages with the demographics that many publishers failed to involve and serve," said Natalie Wuebbolt, head of Z2X, adding that more than a third of the young attendees now say they heard about the festival from their real-life friends rather than social media.

Engagement with a higher purpose

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence in Poland, one of the country’s largest web portals Onet.pl decided to launch a campaign designed to unify the nation.

Olga Korolec, marketing director for Ringier Axel Springer Poland, said in the digital world, the media need to "differentiate or die."

To mark itself against its competitors, Onet.pl launched an award-winning campaign 100 lat Polsko, inspiring Poles to celebrate together in spite of divisions in the country.

Social media and billboards promoting a sense of community and solidarity helped Onet improve its brand image. The campaign also had a huge impact inside the company, said Korolec. One of the videos shows Poles coming together to sing the national anthem, overcoming differences.

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