Irish Farmers Journal: a leader in the newspaper field

The title has grown its circulation, put up a paywall and remained a decision-making tool

Across the daily and Sunday markets, the volume of Irish newspapers sold has dropped more than 6 per cent over the past year alone.  But the Irish Farmers Journal’s circulation edged up 0.5 per cent

Across the daily and Sunday markets, the volume of Irish newspapers sold has dropped more than 6 per cent over the past year alone. But the Irish Farmers Journal’s circulation edged up 0.5 per cent

 

There is only one national newspaper in Ireland that has seen its print circulation grow both over the past year and since 2006. Owned by a trust, it reinvests the profits it makes in its community. Its journalists are specialists, and are promoted as specialists in their bylines. Confident that its information and expertise is too valuable to be given away for free, it is the only Irish newspaper to have a metered paywall on its website.

Where has it all gone right for the Irish Farmers Journal ? Last week’s Audit Bureau of Circulations data was not exactly a joyous harvest for the newspaper industry. Across the daily and Sunday markets, the volume of copies sold has dropped more than 6 per cent over the past year alone.

But the Irish Farmers Journal ’s circulation edged up 0.5 per cent to 70,496, with all of those copies actively purchased by its loyal readership – no “bulks” (giveaways). There have been ups and downs over the recession years, but it is still remarkable, given the carnage circling the industry, that the title’s circulation is 5 per cent higher than it was 2006.

Or, to put it another way, “the voice of Ireland’s farming industry” now has more than twice the print sales of another specialist title, the Sunday Business Post .

Irish Farmers Journal editor Justin McCarthy and commercial director David Leydon say it has survived the slaughter in large part because it produces unique content that is not just relevant to its readers, but key to how they make a living. “The issues we cover are related to on-farm profitability,” says Leydon. “It’s a real decision-making tool, a bit like the Financial Times .”

It is an analogy that explains a lot. And the Irish Farmers Journal is like the FT in another way, in that last December it erected a metered paywall. On Farmersjournal.ie, some news stories are marked “free”, but much of the content has the label “Journal+”. To access this material, readers must register. They can then read 10 “Journal+” articles for free each month before they trigger the paywall and are asked to pay for a subscription.

When readers subscribe to the digital product for €2.29 per week – lower than the €2.70 print cover price – they have full access to all content, including its “digital replica” e-paper, on all devices. Two other options link the fortunes of digital and print together in a convenient, reader- friendly bundle. For €3.26 per week, digital subscribers can pick up a copy of the paper in their local newsagent, while for €3.82 per week, they can get home-delivery.

“We hope that you can appreciate that employing a team of highly qualified specialists to gather and interpret information on your behalf cannot be done for free,” McCarthy explained to readers.

The metered paywall is in its infancy, and it can be argued that what the Irish Farmers Journal has done is put a digital plan in place ahead of anticipated changes in customer behaviour, giving it a chance to smooth out teething problems. It has been lucky in one sense in that its readers have been loyal not just to the title, but to print. “There is no question that there is a slower migration to digital among the farming community,” says Leydon. But demand is growing all the time, he says.

Indeed, this week’s edition tells the story of a dairy farmer who, when he got the generator on his farm working after the recent power cuts, found himself simultaneously charging eight phones and tablets for his family and a couple of neighbours.

When it comes to metered paywalls in the Irish market, however, the Irish Farmers Journal is ploughing a lone furrow. Will non-specialist titles, including the big national dailies with urban, print-ditching readerships, return to the idea as a commercial route forward?

With regular commodity price updates, a bumper crop of classifieds and no need to spell out agricultural acronyms, the Irish Farmers Journal does have the advantage of being able to target itself at a core audience to which it keeps close.

But the “decision-making tool” principle can and does apply to other businesses. A savvy fashion magazine will make readers feel like purchase is essential if they want style edge. A decent entertainment website will know how to lure in users susceptible to cultural FOMO (fear of missing out). A strong news publication will find a way to persuade people that they will languish in non-blissful ignorance if they don’t subscribe.

And a broader-focused publication that wants to counter “won’t pay” attitudes to digital products should exploit all of these vulnerabilities, and a combination of many others. It must farm as much fertile ground as possible, under changeable conditions.

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