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  1. Tech Platforms
February 4, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 9:59am

PressReader for publishers: The ‘Spotify for news’ service used by British Airways, Marriott and Four Seasons

By William Turvill

If any company can be said to have created a “Spotify for news” platform, it is probably PressReader.

For $29.99 a month, subscribers can access around 8,000 newspaper and magazine digital editions in 60 languages from more than 120 countries.

But while PressReader does have a loyal group of “news junkies” who subscribe to this ‘B2C’ service, its main revenue is ‘B2B’ or ‘B2B2C’.

What does this mean in practice? Hotel companies, airlines, ferry operators, libraries and others buy commercial access to the PressReader platform and make this content available to their customers and users.

As Steve Chapman, PressReader’s head of global content partnerships, puts it: “In the olden days when you went to a hotel you got a copy of the local newspaper – that’s what showed up at your door. Now hotels realise they can serve their complete demographic by providing a wide range of content from a wide range of regions from the world.”

The result, says PressReader, is that its platform brings publishers’ content to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Here, in the latest edition of Press Gazette’s Platform Profile series, we explain how PressReader works for publishers and discuss the pros and cons of using the platform. 

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What is PressReader?

Billed as an all-you-can-read service, the PressReader platform was founded by Vancouver-based company NewspaperDirect in 2003. (The company renamed itself PressReader in 2014.)

Over the past 18 years, PressReader has signed up more than 8,000 publications to its flagship platform. Many large publications that are not on the platform still work with PressReader. The company offers bespoke digital edition technology and print-on-demand services.

Most PressReader users access the platform through its B2B customers, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Four Seasons, Marriott and the New York Public Library. These companies buy corporate subscriptions to PressReader and then allow their clients, customers and users to access its content.

The company also has a B2C business. For $29.99 a month, readers get access to all of the publications available on the platform in its region.

In the UK, for example, PressReader subscribers can access: most native national newspapers (excluding News UK’s Times and Sun titles); foreign newspapers including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the Australian, the Times of India and El Pais; and a wide range of magazines, both British and foreign.

Access to certain publications is restricted in some countries. For instance, readers from the US and Canada cannot read the Washington Post. North Americans are also restricted from accessing publications that are on Apple News+ (read our Apple News/ Apple News+ Platform Profile here).

Steve Chapman, PressReader’s head of global content partnerships, says the platform does have a “very loyal direct consumer, individual subscriber count”. But he adds that this service is aimed at “news junkies  – people who consume content from a wide variety of sources” – and is far smaller than PressReader’s B2B operations. 

In addition to its subscribers, PressReader also has tens of millions of pay-as-you-go customers who have accounts. These readers can use the platform to access free publications or buy one-off editions.

Guardian News and Media’s relationship with PressReader demonstrates the depth of services the company offers publishers.

PressReader customers can access the digital replica editions of the Guardian and Observer on the platform. The company also produces bespoke PDF issues of Guardian US and Guardian Australia. And the company hosts direct sales of Guardian print products.

[Read more: Could a Spotify-style model save the global newspaper and magazine industry?]

PressReader: Pros for publishers

The obvious direct advantage of PressReader for publishers is that the platform provides them with new publication ‘sales’.

Every time a customer of British Airways or Marriott opens a publication on PressReader, the owner of that title earns a payment. The same rule applies when an individual subscriber or pay-as-you-go customer opens a publication.

Because PressReader is international – and its large clients operate in all corners of the world – publishers are earning money in new areas via a low-maintenance platform. It is also possible that the platform creates new readers for publications.

For example, a best-case scenario for the Wall Street Journal might be: a business traveller in Asia opens its digital edition in a hotel that works with PressReader – the WSJ receives a small payment for this; the reader is impressed by the newspaper’s content and chooses to buy a digital subscription with the WSJ.

PressReader’s Chapman tells Press Gazette: “One of the great values of PressReader to publishers is that we’re not necessarily about people staying in our platform once they leave a B2B hotspot.

“Our audience is large, but it’s by and large transient and the goal is to try and create opportunities for content to be discovered – surface content that’s relevant to that specific user. And hopefully, they will enjoy that content so much that they want to subscribe to the publication directly.

“It’s one of the key differentiating factors for publishers who work with PressReader. Yes, we have a desire to grow our B2C space but we also know how important it is for publishers to reach new audiences and drive subscriber growth.  We work with publishers to complement their business and create opportunities for them to grow their reach and subscriber base. 

“If we create an opportunity for a publisher to get a subscriber, then we’ve done our job well. We want publishers to use this as a platform to grow their brand, to grow their discoverability, to grow their subscriber base.” 

PressReader also has sophisticated technology and the network to take publications to areas they might not otherwise be able to reach.

The number of publishers signed up to PressReader is a testament to its popularity.

PressReader: Cons for publishers

The absence of the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Economist and News UK’s Sun and Times titles shows that the platform isn’t for everyone (although it’s worth noting that some of these publications, including the NYT and Times/ Sunday Times, use other PressReader products).

The fundamental disadvantage of using a third-party outlet like PressReader is that it dilutes the value of a reader, whose payment is split between the publisher and the platform.

As set out above, this is can be agreeable to publishers when the reader is based overseas and might not otherwise be able to access the publication.

But issues can arise for publishers in their home nation.

Most publications on PressReader are required to make themselves available across all nations. The Washington Post, which is unavailable to PressReader subscribers in the US and Canada, is a rare large example.

The potential problem for publishers is that they could undercut themselves, or devalue their content, by making themselves available in their home nations.

For example, if a hotel guest in Los Angeles finds they can access a digital edition of the LA Times for free, they may be unlikely to buy the newspaper that day. The LA Times receives some payment through PressReader, but less than they’d get for selling a newspaper.

The B2C business could provide an even larger issue. For $29.99 a month, subscribers – likely to be “news junkies”, as noted above – have access to thousands of publications. This is around the same price as someone might pay for access to a single digital news site, or for digital subscriptions to one newspaper and one magazine brand. Some readers will think PressReader’s offering is a better option.

The verdict

Some publishers, like the New York Times, are big and popular enough to be picky about whether their products are available on platforms like PressReader (the NYT doesn’t work with Apple News either).

For smaller news outlets, PressReader presents a straightforward money-paying platform and an opportunity to reach new consumers who might go on to subscribe directly to their brands.

The risk of devaluing content is worth bearing in mind. But, as PressReader’s Chapman notes, the platform’s B2C users currently tend to be “news junkies”. There ought to be many more people who are happy to pay a little less to access one or two publications.

The presence of 8,000 publications on PressReader today suggests that most publishers currently believe the reward outweighs the risk.

Photo credit: PressReader

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