With an economic model still centered on paper, the regional daily press is still struggling to achieve its digital transformation. But how to do it? Elements of response with Ouest France and La Voix du Nord.
After a fairly spectacular increase in audience during the health crisis, the regional daily press still seems to be struggling to take off on digital to offset the industry’s structural losses in print. The online audience is stagnating, paper sales are eroding. As for digital subscriptions, although growing, they are not enough to compensate for the loss of income generated by the decline in print media. For most of these titles, printing still accounts for three quarters of the revenue or even more, such as Ouest France and La Voix du Nord. How can we then project ourselves into the future and get out of the game?
“The main element of Ouest France’s turnover is still paper, and it will remain so for a long time. The ratio is around 70% for print and 30% for digital”, explains Olivier Porte, sales and marketing director. whose title was a forerunner and was able to do well on the Web. “You have to be patient: the share of digital is changing, but it’s a long process, a transformation that we started well and is gradually taking hold,” he adds. . In La Voix du Nord, this ratio is 90% / 10%. “These are certainly very large volumes, which are also decreasing, but which allow us to finance our digital transformation, where most of our development will be in the years to come,” said Gabriel d’Harcourt, Deputy CEO of La Voix du Nord and editorial director who has accelerated its transformation over the past five years.
The digital subscription at the heart of the transformation
What are the challenges of this transformation and which model would be the most suitable? In La Voix du Nord, the subscription is at the heart of the business model, much more than advertising (the ratio is 80/20). The structure is almost the same in Ouest France, where the ratio is 70/30. “The heart of our model is the reader: he pays a contribution through his subscription and is a member of a core community. The subscription is much more resilient than advertising, whose revenues have declined in recent years in the face of competition from Facebook and Google “, explains Olivier Porte.
Ouest France now has 185,000 purely digital subscribers (there were 159,300 in 2021, or 15.51% more than in 2020 and 46.11% more than in 2019). Although growing, this figure still seems insufficient compared to the 500,000 print subscribers (decreasing volume) and the 100,000 copies sold per day at newsstands (loss of speed from 7% to about 8% every year). The picture is similar to La Voix du Nord: every year there are drops from 6% to 7% in the sales volumes of the printed media (subscriptions and sales of a single issue).
The situation appears all the more complicated since the price of the card has risen sharply, forcing Ouest France to apply a price increase in early May, a recurring practice in La Voix du Nord, which is also striving to lower costs. , especially on paper and energy. “Our readers are very attached to their newspaper and that’s what finances our transformation: their loyalty,” explains Gabriel d’Harcourt. Olivier Porte specifies for his part that if the newspaper’s overall income has decreased over the last ten years, it remains profitable allowing the association (Ouest France is managed by a 1901 association) to continue investing, particularly in editorial, with recruiting. of a hundred journalists in the last three years. “In order for more readers to arrive more often and for longer, we need to invest above all in editorial”, he explains. “Our mission is to inform, connect communities and be local actors”.
Break the silos between editorial, SEO, marketing and data
We therefore understood: for these professionals, the subscription is at the center of the model and the quality of the editorial offer remains central to transforming readers into subscribers. But how to recruit and keep them? Let’s not forget that Ouest France’s online audience, which jumped in 2020 with more than 61.46% compared to 2019, has been gradually decreasing since 2021. Same movement in La Voix du Nord: an increase of almost 128% between 2019 and 2020 for a gradual or even more marked decline from 2021. Even if levels remain higher than before the health crisis, how can this erosion be stopped? “Our challenge is to regain this growth, this is what we are currently looking for, with certainly rather disappointing results from 2020, but this encourages us to work even better. My belief is that our potential is enormous and that it will be developed as we integrate. new tools and skills allowing an industrial company to transform itself into a technology, which does not happen in the snap of a finger, “says Gabriel d’Harcourt.
In the La Voix du Nord roadmap, the priority is to make productions increasingly suitable for the right audience and at the right time by integrating SEO, personalization, recommendation and measurement logic. This involves taking into account data, including journalists, and systematically measuring the performance of content. This also implies a cultural change in writing in order to de-compartmentalize the production of contents by adopting a transversal reflection (marketing, editorial, digital and data) for the definition of the subjects. “This does not come at the expense of the journalist’s independence: it is, on the contrary, what will allow him to have more readers”, believes Gabriel d’Harcourt. Therefore, a one-year ongoing project aims to reinforce the power of content to convert a reader into a subscriber through the use of new narrative forms and the multiplication of angles for the same topic, which adapt to different social channels and audiences. seduce. “The theme is less in the tools and more in the training of our journalists and teams and in their more agile work organization, in project mode, surrounding themselves with skills in data, SEO, conversion, loyalty, commitment, community management., Etc. “, he adds.
Strong acquisition anywhere digital and offline
Olivier Porte, for his part, puts the situation of relative erosion of the digital audience into perspective: “We have never had so many readers connected to Ouest France: this slight decline does not scare us, above all because in the long term, over ten years, the trend is increasing. After that, of course, we need to be able to keep them: we had 20,000 digital subscriptions 10 years ago; there are 185,000 today, so there is definitely good progress. “
A progression based on a decidedly multi-channel strategy – to be present everywhere on all physical and digital media – and editorially generous on all formats (articles, videos and podcasts) to acquire and retain. “We are a popular press, we must remain very open and present everywhere: we cannot just lock all our articles online with a padlock. On the contrary, we must seek readers by all means: from bakery and brick-and-mortar stores to social networks, in le their mailboxes by 7:30 and through our 70 digital newsletters that mark the important moments of the day, to get them on board, to allow as many people as possible to be informed, to get them used to reading and keeping them “, He adds .
A strategy that allowed Ouest France to aggregate 2 million logged-in readers: “It is now up to us to encourage them to stay longer and more often to one day become subscribers”. And he adds: “I’m not saying it’s not complicated, but we have a great advantage: we are the only ones to tell about the territories and talk to people about what they experience every day”.
As for La Voix du Nord, another brick seems to be paying off: events as part of a revenue diversification strategy that includes the organization of trade fairs, conferences, parties and conventions. The latter concern issues on which the newspaper considers itself legitimate and which embrace trends appreciated by its readers, such as production, local talent and know-how or short circuits. “We find the right theme, identify the resources and speakers to highlight and fill the halls with the public: this is a very promising axis even if it is still marginal. In total, over a year, this represents approximately 2 million out of a total turnover of 120 million euros, but it is precisely the small rivers that feed the rivers “, he analyzes.
All this digital transformation is not going to come at the expense of print. On the contrary, our two interlocutors believe that the card will continue to be an integral part of the model despite its evident loss of speed. “The newspaper remains and will remain a very important means of creating brand preferences, building trust and forming a community around the headline. We are a popular information press, we reach out to the entire population,” says Olivier Porte. “It is an important support for some of our readers but also for our advertisers,” adds Gabriel d’Harcourt.
Three major challenges remain for these players: dependence on the price of raw materials, as in the case of paper, the price of which “has doubled in the last year”; the achievement of a more equitable relationship with the platforms in order to improve the visibility of the contents pushed on social networks and to better understand the currently unclear logic of the algorithms; Portage control, essential as long as the card remains important, and which in Ouest France is managed internally. “2022 will not be an easy year but we should close it in balance. We must continue our investments in digital but also in our industrial and porting tools to get back in shape in 2023”, concludes Olivier Porte.