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Gazette to introduce ‘paywall’

The Royal Gazette is to introduce a “paywall” that would require readers to pay for some of the content on its website.

The move comes as the newspaper's parent company, Bermuda Press Holdings Ltd, plans to transition its publishing division's offerings to a “digital first” platform.

“The goal is to grow subscription revenues through the introduction of a paywall to monetise our online content, while at the same time maintaining the printed newspaper,” Stephen Thomson, chairman of BPHL, wrote in his report to shareholders in the group's annual report.

“We believe this is the right strategy and now is the right time as it will ensure the future success of the newspaper.”

Mr Thomson said a new software platform was selected in late 2019 to effect the digital first change. He added that during the first half of 2020 the new systems would be installed and management would implement the necessary changes to the business model.

“Technology will continue to change the world and the importance of independent, unbiased journalism from a trusted source has never been more important,” Mr Thomson said.

“Fake news is everywhere and we must continue to offer our audience a timely, reliable and trusted source for news.”

He added: “The Royal Gazette will continue to print a daily newspaper and the editorial team will focus on continuing to produce the highest quality of reporting.”

His comments in BPHL's annual report, filed yesterday with the Bermuda Stock Exchange, came with the announcement that the company's net profit fell by almost two-thirds to $738,000 in the year ended September 30, 2019.

Operating revenue slipped by $1.5 million to $23.02 million compared to the prior year, while operating expenses fell by $1.17 million to $22.09 million.

In addition to The Royal Gazette, BPHL owns commercial printing, real estate and retail interests.

The rental segment was the biggest earner, producing net income of $2.46 million, while the publishing and retail division made a $1.14 million loss and the commercial printing segment, a $585,000 loss.

Mr Thomson said that “in the absence of healthy local economic growth, certain business divisions will struggle to be profitable” and added that the company would mitigate and manage this risk.

The BPHL chairman lamented the lack of decisive action from the Government to support the economy, particularly in the areas of immigration reform and education, adding that this inaction was “costing Bermudians dearly”. He described the last ten years as a “lost decade” for Bermuda.

“The challenges facing Bermuda, both internally and externally, have been continually kicked around in a scoreless game of political football at the expense of Bermudians and no decisive action has been taken,” Mr Thomson wrote.

“Instead we continue to perpetuate the culture of ‘No' and demonstrate that we are not capable of being bold, nimble or embracing change.”

He added: “The inability of Government to address the issues facing our economy is unacceptable and the sheer lack of will, or perhaps ability, to effect change is costing Bermudians dearly. It is time that all Bermudians stand up and demand action.”

Long-promised immigration reforms were particularly costly to the economy, as the population fell, he said.

“The decline in population is having a ripple effect in the economy and impedes the ability of all local businesses to remain viable,” Mr Thomson said.

“Many in the business community believe that the true population of Bermuda is lower than what is being estimated by reports from the Department of Statistics.

“Bermudians cannot continue to sit by idly and allow changes in policies and procedures relating to the issuance of work permits that make attracting talent more difficult. We must focus on making residing in Bermuda more attractive with real immigration reform based on plans to stabilise and grow the population.

“Senior executives and their families, who have been resident in Bermuda for many years and are net positive contributors to the economy; we must retain these people.”

He said the island should consider alternative options to attract wealthy individuals.

“Commercial tourism and immigration both offer economic benefit to Bermuda and can be structured in a way that does not present any risk of disadvantaging Bermudians in the job market,” Mr Thomson added.

“Many other jurisdictions have experienced the benefits of welcoming family offices and wealthy individuals wishing to retire to a warmer climate.”

He also urged education reforms, saying that the system had, for two decades, “failed to provide our youth with the quality of education and skills required to compete and excel in the local economy”.

Mr Thomson added: “There are many options that need to be explored, such as providing vouchers to local private schools or overseas boarding schools.

“The cost of such a system, if we were to guarantee a certain number of students per school, is comparable to what it costs us to educate a student in Bermuda and the quality of education is higher.

“Thinking outside the box to reform the education system should be the number one priority of our government, regardless of who the ruling party is, as the problem has persisted for far too long.”

Mr Thomson, who has served as the chairman of BPHL for the past six years, announced his intention to retire from the company's board of directors this year.

Paywall plans: Stephen Thomson, chairman of Bermuda Press Holdings Ltd

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Published March 03, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated March 03, 2020 at 12:00 am)

Gazette to introduce ‘paywall’

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