SCMP’s Gary Liu delivers keynote at Indian Media Leaders eSummit

Newspapers need a multi-channel revenue model

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Gary Liu of the South China Morning Post Photo: SCMP
Gary Liu of the South China Morning Post Photo: SCMP

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a collapse in advertising revenue for newspapers globally. The crisis has brought this fact to the fore, and for newspaper companies to be sustainable in the long term, they need to develop a multi-channel revenue model, said Gary Liu of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in his keynote to the Wan-Ifra Indian Media Leaders eSummit.

“Due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, our advertising revenue collapsed, and so we realized that we have to depend on multiple revenue channels to sustain ourselves. We are doing it by becoming a platform company from a product company,” Liu said. He added that newspaper companies would need a mix of advertising, subscriptions, events and B2B to have a successful multi-channel revenue model.

Beset with multiple challenges over the past fifteen months, the SCMP’s print advertising and digital advertising fell sharply during November-December 2019 and March 2020. However, at the same time, average monthly digital users increased at a fast clip. In March 2020, SCMP has 51 million average users monthly with 2.7 million in Hong Kong, 18.7 million in the US, 14.1 million in the rest of Asia, and 15.7 million in the rest of the world. Its monthly video views in March 2020 were 250 million, while its print readership stood at 0.4 million.

The numbers in March 2020 are significantly higher than what they were in January 2017 when SCMP’s average monthly users were 4.3 million, with 1.3 million in Hong Kong, 0.8 million in the US, and 0.7 million in the rest of Asia 1.1 million in the rest of the world. Its monthly video views were 4.1 million in January 2017, with the print readership even then at 0.4 million. It shows that all the readers the newspaper has gained in a little over three years are in the digital space.

As SCMP’s chief executive officer, with effect from January 2017, Liu’s appointment is part of the transformation of the SCMP since Alibaba Group Holdings bought it in April 2016. The digital transformation aimed to make the 113-year-old newspaper the go-to source for political and business stories about Greater China from an Asian perspective.

Unique value needed to for multi-channel revenue

Although Liu argues that newspaper companies need to construct multi-channel revenue models to sustain, they need to offer unique value to develop that model. As per Liu, the SCMP’s exceptional value is in its deep understanding of China.

“China’s rise on the global stage will be one of the most important stories of the world. And we are best positioned to cover the country. The way we understand China is the unique value we provide. From Hong Kong, we are objectively able to cover China for the world,” he says.

Role of technology

In a world that is fast getting digitalized, technology plays a crucial role. However, Liu believes that technology should not be adopted just for the sake of it. “Technology is fundamental as it makes newsroom faster and more accurate and productive. Technology also allows us to package and distribute our content everywhere. Our content should be translatable across social media. If not, we are irrelevant,” he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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