News24's countdown to a digital subscription service has begun

Duncan Alfreds, News24
  • News24's digital subscription service launches on Saturday.
  • A growing demand for trusted journalism has been one of the driving forces for restructuring.
  • News24 has decided on the 'freemium' model which allows for free and premium content.

On Tuesday Fin24 editor, Ron Derby, was in conversation with News24 editor Adriaan Basson in anticipation of News24’s new digital subscription service which will launch on Saturday.

Basson said the drive for the decision has been a demand for trusted and reputable journalism in the wake of a global pandemic and the changing market conditions for media across the world.

"The time for trusted journalism is now, specifically during a global crisis where we see many users turning to trusted news publications. This is a big moment for News24 and one that we are very proud and excited about," he said.

The media industry has been experimenting with different business models in order to continue providing quality journalism. This restructuring has been pushed forward by mass retrenchments and salary cuts at most major local media companies due to the impact of Covid-19.

The primary income for most publications is advertising but with the current climate, that too has been affected by Covid-19, having a knock-on effect on industries supported by marketing and advertising.  

Basson said that the current advertising model is not sustainable and it would be reckless if the company continued to hedge its future on it.

"We are not only selling a product, we are holding power to account; we are strengthening democracy.  

"Advertising cannot be our only source of income. If we can convince people that the value they are getting out of our product, out of reading our journalism, is good enough to pay for, then we can build a second revenue stream alongside advertising which will see us with even bigger newsrooms in the future," said Basson.   

News24 has decided to go with the ‘freemium’ model as opposed to the metered model that was preferred in the early days of subscriptions. The ‘freemium’ model allows for majority of the content to be free, including breaking news, but premium content will be reserved for subscribers only.

Premium content includes investigative and in-depth journalism, as well as opinions, analysis and views on news, politics, sport, business and lifestyle stories.

A News24 subscription will further include access to journalism from City Press, as well as You, Drum and True Love magazines.

Premium content will not be ad-free.

"For now, the majority of the content will be free as we see what the uptake is from our readers. I know that this is a behavioural change, after 22 years of giving away our content for free we are now asking people to change, and we will remain realistic about that," said Basson.

The aim is now to build deeper relationships with subscribers to ensure the success of the subscription-based model. This will be done by bringing comments through an artificial intelligence platform that was developed for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington post. "This platform will make comment less toxic and my journalists and I are looking forward to engaging with our readers."


Basson told readers to keep an eye out for fun entertainment included in the subscription which will be localised, such as crossword puzzles and sudoku. 

There will be curated newsletters on topics ranging from business, sport, lifestyle, to food and movies. These will go alongside the existing morning and evening newsletters "Good morning, SA" and "In case you missed it".

For now News24 is allowing individual subscribers but is in talks to have business and corporate packages in future.

News24 will also introduce a text-speech feature with a unique South African voice that will enable subscribers to listen to stories in a voice that can pronounce South African names/words correctly.

Basson said the publication will be increasing podcast output as audio is big in the company’s future plans.

"The digital age with the advent of the internet in the early '90s saw many news publishers, including News24, publishing their content for free and now are in a position where they look back and think maybe they should have never given away their content for free, this is a point in history where media publishers around the world are ready to change that," said Basson.

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