As Chile enjoys growing readership, its newspaper of record, El Mercurio, must make the shift from being viewed as an elite paper to one appealing to the emerging middle class, all while maintaining the traditional appeal of being a quality newspaper.
Eying trends in developed economies, El Mercurio is making preparations to both monetize online content and serve readers with niche reporting.
“We are looking to develop a strategy to penetrate that market and pick up those readers as their news demands change,” explains Juan Jaime Diaz, deputy director.
Founded in 1827, El Mercurio is the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in Chile and part of the country’s largest s biggest news group, the El Mercurio Corporation, which owns 18 newspapers and 32 radio stations throughout the country. Having traditionally served sophisticated newspaper readers, its readership is largely is between ages 45 and 85.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Chile boasts the largest growth in newspaper circulation of all the countries it monitors. In Chile, approximately 60 newspapers are sold per every 1,000 people, below developed economies such as Norway, which boasts some 550 to 600 copies sold for every 1,000, or the United States with 264 per 1,000.
Diaz attributes this to the relative position in the business cycle in which Chilean media finds itself.
“Compared to the U.S. we are growing. In Chile perhaps 60 copies per 1,000 persons are sold; number[s] are similar in Argentina or Bolivia. Latin America is inferior to other markets in that sense.”
But Diaz insists that the difference between these markets is that the South American market continues to expand. “We will never achieve these levels [of Western economies] of readership but we are growing, while developed economies experience falling circulation.”
New content for a new population: Booming middle class and young readers
This growing readership can be partly credited to free newspapers being distributed in the capital city, Santiago de Chile, he says. Some 6 million inhabitants can choose between two freely distributed newspapers, La Hora and the Swedish-owned Publimetro. Diaz says he believes the emerging middle class, especially youths, begins reading these newspapers and later move on to more in-depth news reporting.
The strategy may be a stretch. El Mercurio traditionally serves a sophisticated readership, typically the affluent section of society that makes up 32 percent of the country’s population. Though the large part of Chile’s society is made up of the middle class (42 percent) there is a three-year gap in terms of educational attainment between the affluent and middle classes. Given this difference, Diaz says many expect challenges in trying to service and satisfy all readers’ demands.
“We are looking to penetrate other socio-economic sections by mixing our paper with issues and topics that appeal to a broader readership,” he says. This is primarily done through supplementary magazines that focus on anything from agriculture (on Mondays), to social and fashion issues (Tuesdays) and lifestyle, travel and personal finance issues. “We are confident that those readers will start looking to us for more sophisticated news analysis.”
Asked whether that is El Mercurio’s strategy for its online appearance is currently similar. Online, El Mercurio’s content is free, at emol.com. Like many other news sites, it is financed through advertising and cross-subsidised by the print edition. Yet steps have been taken to slowly introduce services available for payment. Through “Club de Lectores,” for example, members can purchase products and services like wine, educational content and travel.
In addition, El Mercurio Corp. is working on a second website with a paywall. Elmercurio.com will offer analysis, tools to use when travelling, niche information for economists, legal resources and more. Elmercurio.com will be entirely different from demol.com, with a separate staff and office location.
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