Newsletter No 26 18 April 2006
Online Publishing:
Looking for a Business Model

The Lebanese Daily Star currently has 750,000 monthly visitors and the number keeps increasing, according to General Manager Ayad Tassabehji. However, online advertising revenue represents 1 per cent of its overall advertising income. As many newspapers the world over, The Daily Star is looking for ways to increase its revenues online.

“The website is forcing us to think a new business model for the company,” says Tassabehji. “Sooner or later, newspapers will have to find an online advertising model. Until now, we have all failed doing that.”

The future of newspapers depends mostly on content, he says. “It is still the ‘king’, your main product. Clients will always come to you because of your content. Online is just another way of delivery and you have to adapt content to the new technologies,” Tassabehji says.

Even if the new model must be a content-based one, Tassabehji does not believe in charging readers. “We know it does not work. The new model has to rely on advertising,” he says.

Money will come through advertising and this will come with increasing visitors, says Tassabehji. Newspapers have to offer them what they want in terms of content.

“You cannot have the same articles in the print and online editions –and most newspapers do that—because you cannot expect the online reader to be the same as the print newspaper reader. Since most of them come from a different geographical area of that of the newspaper, some of the content on the print is not relevant for the reader online,” he says.

To know what readers want, The Daily Star carries out online readership surveys. Unlike readership research for the print edition, online surveys do not focus on what readers like but on what they would like to find.

“We already know what or how many articles they have read and how much time they did spend reading. It is useless asking them about the past if we already know it,” Tassabehji says.

As a result of those surveys, The Daily Star created an e-paper edition and added archives to its website.

Selling products such as archives or syndicated content are some other possibilities to generate revenues. Syndicated content of The Daily Star, which the paper offers at different rates or for free depending on the service, represents 50 per cent of the online revenues of the newspaper. The other 50 per cent comes from advertising.

Generating just 1 per cent of the paper’s advertising revenue and representing less than 5 per cent of the company’s budget, “the current commercial role of the website is minimal,” says Tassabehji.

He knows it will have to change. “The future of newspapers seems to be going online, mobile and other technologies. We believe that the website will play a much bigger commercial role in the not too distant future,” he says.

And he makes a big prediction: “We believe that our online department will generate more revenues than our (printed) advertising.”