The MEN’s paid-for app offers no “adverts, pop-ups or distractions”, the ability to listen to articles instead of reading them using a text-to-speech tool, a weekly curation of long reads called The Edit each Monday morning, a round-up entitled The News Digest updated at 7am and lunchtime daily, evening newsletter Mancunian Way, exclusive offers, and five subscriber-only puzzles including sudoku and crosswords.
The MEN trialled an optional premium offering with the same perks, most significantly the absence of adverts, on its app last year.
However the new experiment marks the first metered paywall at a Reach title, albeit only on the app and not the website, with its limitation on how many free stories a user can read before being told they must pay.
The app allows users to read 25 articles per week for free but then costs £2.99 per month or £19.99 per year for unlimited access to stories and the exclusive paid-for features. The number of articles people get for free in the app is likely to change as the trial goes on.
If the experiment goes well, Reach could launch a similar membership offering at some of its other biggest brands. The trial is also taking place on the MEN’s Man United football news app.
‘Early reader feedback’ to MEN app experiment ‘encouraging’
Reach audience transformation director Martin Little said: “We’re proud to be offering this premium app experience to our MEN and Man United app audiences and early reader feedback has so far been encouraging.
“As always, it’s important that we continue to keep experimenting, both with reader experience and with revenue opportunities, and this year we expect to explore premium options with more of our most popular brands.”
The publisher previously experimented with a micro-paywall, meaning people were asked to pay small fees for individual articles, on Examiner Live, the website of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. However that trial ended in February 2020 after several months and no other Reach titles have put up any type of paywall since.
Reach traditionally aimed to grow its reach to get in front of as many people as possible with a mainly advertising-based business, but it is currently in a drive to increase engagement with its audiences as social media and search traffic becomes ever more volatile and it strives for new digital revenue streams and deeper first-party data.
In March Reach announced plans for “significant changes” in parts of its editorial operations, meaning some redundancies, as a result of the “headwinds that are buffeting the whole industry” including an “industry-wide decline in open-market advertising yields” and “online attention recession”.
Chief executive Jim Mullen said in March the company is increasingly focused on “growing sustainable and data-led digital revenues”.
MEN editor: ‘We always want to innovate’
The Manchester Evening News is currently the 14th biggest news website in the UK, according to Ipsos iris with an audience of 11.6 million people in May, down 27% year-on-year.
The launch also acknowledges complaints from readers about intrusive advertising and pop-ups that slow down pages and make it difficult to read stories on many local news websites, not only at Reach.
Announcing the membership on Sunday, MEN editor Sarah Lester said: “Listening to you lets us know how we can serve you better. And, one of the issues you’ve raised is around the performance of our website.
“Advertising is important to us. We need it to pay for our journalists and to keep our site free.
“But it’s so important to us that you enjoy visiting us – and that your experience of reading our pages is smooth and easy.
“We always want to innovate. And that’s why we’re excited to tell you about how our app is evolving.”
Referring to the previous iteration of the app, Lester said: “Thousands of you have already downloaded our app from the app store and the data tells us you like what you see. We’re sure you’ll like the new, Premium version even more.”
She added that the team had “thought long and hard” about asking readers to pay but decided it would allow them to produce more stories and campaigns for readers.
Other UK local news publishers are also currently trying out new subscription offerings. For example the Eastern Daily Press, one of the former Archant titles bought by Newsquest last year, has this year launched a paywall on its website and paid-for app, EDP+.
Editor Richard Porritt explained: “The quality journalism, investigations, crime, court and sports coverage we pride ourselves in is expensive to produce.
“But we are determined to continue to speak truth to power and shine a light on issues many would rather you didn’t know about.”
The EDP’s website-only subscription offering with unlimited, advert-light articles costs £5.99 per month or £59 per year. The full package including the app and digital replica of the newspaper costs £7.99 per month or £69 annually.
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