APN moves towards metered paywall for ARM news websites

FREE online access to news stories on Australian Regional Media websites is a step closer to ending as parent company APN looks to continue improvements to its balance sheet.

APN chief executive Michael Miller today confirmed at an investors' day in Sydney that a metered paywall would be installed on the company's Queensland and northern New South Wales daily websites, in the second half of this year.

This website is owned by APN.

ARM chief executive Neil Monaghan has also revealed some of the key launch packages.

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Current print subscribers would get online access free, and the pricing model, which has not yet been revealed, would be innovative and could even encourage print readership growth.

Mr Miller said ARM would be the first regional publisher to test a paywall in this country.

''We pride ourselves that our content is unique. In some cases, for over 100 years people have shown a willingness to pay for our content.

''To remain relevant and viable, we have to move on (and start charging online).''

Metro publishers News Ltd and Fairfax had shown paywalls could work, and Mr Miller expected ARM's strong news teams across the two states to prove their value to readers too.

''The number of journalists we have in Mackay, for example, is more than any competitor has in that market. We don't see (we have) competition for local information.''

Readers should see it as reasonable to have to pay for great local news coverage if they wanted to stay informed.

Mr Miller said the company's aims were realistic, and it knew not everyone would be prepared to pay.

''It's  a necessary change of habits. Over time  people do accept it, but it will take time.''

Mr Monaghan said the ARM model would be a metered one, where consumers would be allowed a set number of free stories a month, before they hit the paywall. He also revealed the company would convert one of its 12 daily newspaper websites to the paywall as a pilot site.

''We need to see how it works, and refine the offering before taking it wider,'' he said. The test market had not been decided on yet.

''It will be somewhere we are a clear number one, where we have strong digital penetration and where our news team is highly respected.''

In other investor news, Mr Miller said a major project in Queensland in the next period would be closer co-operation and co-ordination between ARM and sister companies Australian Radio Network and Adshel.

ARM was the biggest regional publisher, ARN had the No 1 Brisbane radio station, 97.3FM, and Adshel had the Brisbane city outdoor advertising contract. That meant advertisers could own  Queensland through APN.

APN had also had a positive start to 2015, with year-to-year revenues up six per cent.

At ARM, improving revenue trends had continued. Year-to-date income was down just three per cent on the same period last year.

APN shares finished at $0.91 yesterday, more than three times what they were trading at little more than a year ago.

Mr Miller said a return to dividends could happen in the medium term, a year or so away.