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Editor reveals ambition to pay for journalists entirely from subscribers

Gavin ThompsonAn editor has shared his ambition for journalists at a regional publisher to be funded solely by digital subscriptions.

Gavin Thompson has revealed his hope that such a model can work for The National Wales, as well as its Newsquest sister titles.

The National Wales was launched by Newsquest last March as a primarily digital publication and offers subscriptions at £6.99 per month or £75 per year.

The fee gives readers unlimited access to all of the Newport-based title’s stories, among other features.

During an interview with the InPublishing podcast, Gavin estimated that around 500 subscribers are needed to cover one journalist’s salary.

Asked about subscription targets, he said: “What I’d like to be is in a position where the staff that we have are funded through the digital subscriptions, through the reader revenue, because that, I think, gives you a really strong, robust model.

“Newsquest has gone into subscriptions in the past 18 months, during the pandemic. But that was a new thing for Newsquest. Most of our sites will be very much primarily page view driven.

“So if we can establish and prove that there is a viable model where you can have a dedicated team with maybe not huge numbers, but with a handful of journalists solely funded through your subscriptions then actually I think that’s strategically a really important thing for the wider business as well, to have that within its armoury.”

Newsquest said last year the number of digital subscribers it had gained since introducing metered paywalls in 2020 was “substantially ahead of expectations”, although the company has declined to reveal the current number subscribing to The National Wales.

Speaking to HTFP, Gavin said: “I think the most important thing is finding ways to continue to fund journalism. There are lots of ways to do that and no one right answer, whether it’s advertising, subscriptions, events, membership, sponsorship – they all have merits and drawbacks and no single one will be the right solution for everyone.

“But I think reader revenues, for some sites, can be a central part of that mix, especially for sites that either give some really specialist value or insight that you can’t get elsewhere or where you have a vision or mission that people can buy into.

“For some titles, they might provide an extra bit of revenue that helps as part of a bigger pot but for others they can provide a really solid foundation for a sustainable future.”

In his interview, Gavin was also asked by host James Evelegh whether he saw a future for print at The National Wales, which ran ‘pop-up’ print editions when first launched until they were discontinued in November.

Gavin discussed a possible return to the ‘pop-up’ model, but also added: “I’m very interested when you see organisations like Byline Times.

“They’re a print newspaper publisher but they’re on a subscription where you pay for it and it gets delivered to you, so they’re only printing the number of copies that they’re going to sell. I think that’s really interesting.

“I can’t see us doing that at this time, but I could see that being the sort of model three or four years down the line if the demand was there.”