Poland’s newonce makes people pay. Not only for articles, but even for podcasts.
For many publishers, locking podcasts and articles behind a paywall is a big step. Especially in Poland, where 76% of Internet users don’t understand why they should pay for online content, according to a 2021 report by the Polish Economic Institute.
But newonce, a vibrant Polish music and pop-culture media felt optimistic enough to give it a try. They introduced a paid subscription offer for audio, video, and text content in December last year. So far, it is working out – the publisher gained 6K subscribers in the first 6 weeks.
The Fix spoke to Danuta Breguła, Business Development and Membership Strategy Director at newonce. Before July 2021 she was responsible for the digital strategy and subscriptions growth of Gazeta Wyborcza, the biggest Polish opinion-making newspaper.
Building a successful media for Gen-Z and Millenials
“Together with our audiences, we look at the world around us through the prism of pop culture, social and political issues, health, technological development, or sport. We believe that it is possible to make media that combine ‘cool’ and ‘meaningful’, where qualitative knowledge is combined with quality entertainment”, Breguła explains.
Asked about sources of inspiration, the publisher lists Vox Media, Vice, Vulture, Wired, BBC, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, New Yorker, Complex, The Athletic, Bleacher Report, and NTS Radio.
Launched in 2015, the media group includes an online lifestyle magazine (newonce.net) and a radio (newonce.radio), combined in a single mobile app, as well as a print edition. In 2020 they added the sports portal newonce.sport (in a separate app).
In total newonce platforms reach over 1 million unique users per month. The apps were installed on over 225K devices as of October 2021, according to Brief.pl.
“In 2021, we recorded the best result since the company’s inception”, Breguła states. The sites grew in terms of unique visitors, she continues, but the main goal for 2021 was engagement and retention. Audio did especially well. She adds: “Radio gained 43% more listeners live, and podcasts recorded 34% more listens than in the previous year”.
While newonce is mainly known as a media, the brand is also strongly associated with its own bar in central Warsaw. The place called newonce.bar is located in the same building as the publisher’s former headquarters.
This is not just a spot to chill in a trendy district, but also a community-building tool. Furthermore, the bar makes newonce more interesting for advertisers who are looking for non-standard advertising cooperation formats: pop-ups, sponsored events, etc.
The ups and downs of launching a paywall
Poland’s publishing landscape went through a tumultuous 2021: proposed news taxes on ad revenues led to a media blackout; the internet beat TV for the first time in terms of ad spending; digital audio, podcasts, and radio took off (which also saw an boosted advertising for these formats).
All these factors played in favour of newonce, which was already gradually moving towards sustainability. According to 2019 results, the latest available, the media group had €1.47 million in revenues, costs of €1.63 million and a €174,500 net loss, informed Wirtualne Media.
Meanwhile, the prospects for reader revenue in Poland remain mixed. According to a 2020 study of Polish internet users, few are ready to pay for the lifestyle and sports content. Only 11% paid for online news subscriptions (although twice that many said they would consider it in exchange for reduced ad displays).
Asked what an “honest” monthly subscription fee would be, users most frequently responded 10 zloty (approximately €2.18), according to the Polish Economics Institute. The media response was €4.37. But that didn’t stop newonce from launching newonce.club in December 2021, with a paid subscription offer for all newonce and newonce.sport content for €6.34 a month.
By end-January 2022, newonce reported it gained 6K subscribers in the first 6 weeks of limiting free access to the content. At the same time, traffic on newonce and newonce.sport decreased by 17%.
“I can say that we are still maintaining the current fast pace of growth. Importantly, every fourth person chooses a pre-paid, auto-renewing annual subscription. We treat it as our greatest commitment. (…) So far, we have recorded a 17% decrease in traffic and this is in line with the optimistic scenario we adopted”, explains Breguła.
After the announcement of the newonce.club launch, she told Wirtualne Media the idea to introduce a paid offer for access to content appeared in 2020 when the readers reported the willingness to pay for their favourite content.
Importantly, the subscription reaches beyond traditional media support bases. As Breguła explained, newonce’s audience is mainly made up of city dwellers with limited prior media consumption or 30-to-40 year-olds who are not satisfied with what traditional, mainstream media has to offer (eg., clickbait, polarising content, oversimplifications).
The subscription is supposed to make newonce less dependent on flighty program sponsors, who can pull support at any time. Readers were informed about their plans from spring 2021 and asked about acceptable price thresholds.
Benefits for the subscribers and business partners
newonce’s reader revenue strategy currently prioritises annual subscriptions worth €32.62 for full access (and €27.14 for newonce.sport only). In terms of benefits the organisation provides the following:
- A 57% discount vs. monthly subscriptions.
- Access to online and offline events, including meetings with authors, concerts, parties, and workshops. These will increasingly be beyond Warsaw (which only makes up 30% of the media’s audience), and offline as Poland emerges from the pandemic
- Access to private Discord and Twitch channels, Facebook groups. According to Breguła, newonce needs to reach audiences where they are, from Twitch to TikTok.
Among planned future benefits, she mentioned discounts on purchases in online newonce.store or on the purchase of newonce.paper magazine. They also aim to provide benefits and access to events from advertising partners.
One more solution that is aimed at both users and advertisers is opting out of in-app display advertising: “newonce brand doesn’t compete for reach only, but for ensuring quality contact with the advertisement”, Breguła notes.
“We turned off display advertising, and the radio doesn’t have the typical tiresome advertising blocks known from traditional radio stations. In this sense, the new model supports what we have been betting on so far. We have great advertising partners who are open to our experimentation because they value the community around our brand”, she added.
Reader revenue is creating innovative solutions for advertisers, from including products or services into club benefits or providing preferential subscription prices for partners’ customers.
“Most of them are figured out individually. If our client needs access as a benefit for his employees or students or wants to associate the partnership with a series of offline events that we are preparing this year, our team designs such case-by-case based on the partner’s communication needs and with his participation”, Breguła said.
Growing the subscription numbers is tricky though. Experience shows that advertising outside of newonce channels does not necessarily work. newonce audiences don’t necessarily follow traditional media, Breguła notes, adding that newonce.club is most effectively promoted by the content creators gathered around the brand, e.g. the hosts of programs.
Plans for 2022 – podcasts, video and relationships
The Polish podcast and audio market is changing fast. newonce is not the only player to lock access to their audio content – Radio Tok.fm has been doing this for a while. Spotify’s paid podcast model is also coming to Poland, which is creating a buzz among the country’s podcast community, to some like newonce are doubtful about the platform as a solution.
“In our case, we opted out of distributing all of our podcasts on Spotify and Apple Podcasts – we only make available 15% of their length there; complete episodes are available only in the newonce and newonce.sport apps”, Breguła notes.
As Breguła explained to us, the core strategy change took place in 2020, when newonce pivoted to reader revenue.
This requires further investments in content and product – more reporting, expansion of the video offering (especially on Twitch and TikTok), and the development of the new thematic products (especially on the sports side, as well as adding feedback features in the app).
However, Breguła still wants to work to build better relations with advertisers: more focus on annual, mutually beneficial regular partnerships rather than short campaigns. Besides all this, the question of human resources management looms increasingly large, Breguła explains.
This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.