But seriously, newsletters are one of the hot topics in media right now because we have so much data on how they are the first step to converting a user to a subscriber. Or, put another way, newsletters are the “zero subscription” as a Google product manager said at the Google News Initiative Summit that I attended in March.
One thing to note: They use Salesforce Marketing Cloud to produce their newsletter. They had been using Mailchimp, which is what a lot of companies, including mine use. Despite the issues always involved in transitioning to a new platform, Salesforce is important to their strategy because:
Marketing Cloud is part of a bigger suite of programs. It lets the business side have more insight into audience behavior. We can see what content drives conversion. We can offer related content based on individual user habits. These abilities underscore our goal of increasing digital subscriptions.
Hello to even more new subscribers. Wahay! And being new here, if you are new here, I want to extend an invitation to pass along interesting reads to me on Twitter, @kevglobal And if you aren’t a subscriber yet, get the full round of interesting in your inbox every weekday by signing up at my Nuzzel profile.
The one point they make is that “skills” for Alexa or “actions” for Google’s Assistant are key to the process. These are the third party applications that allow you to really connect with your audiences. They open up a lot of new opportunities such as interactivity and the ability to sell exclusive content, two of the more than half dozen revenue ideas in the article by Publishing Executive.
One of the key decisions is whether to develop these actions or skills in-house or out-source them to a dedicated development shop. I think it really comes down to resources and how core smart speakers are to your overall business strategy. As the articles says, this is a fast moving space, and for smaller organisations that can’t afford a dedicated developer, it might make more sense to work with an external development firm. If you have the scale and smart speakers are core to your business, then it might make sense to develop in-house and build up that capability.
But there is a lot of other things in the newsletter today including:
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In a note from BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti to staff in March, Peretti said BuzzFeed made $3 million from Facebook platform revenue in the fourth quarter of 2018, and was monetizing 70% of its YouTube video views by the end of last year.
From a conversion standpoint, they have developed a hybrid three-layer paid content system: Metered, premium and dynamic. The dynamic layer puts content that attracts a significant amount of traffic in three to four hours behind the paywall.
In terms of conversion, they have found that the first four to six months are critical in reducing churn, which is why they have focused on things like newsletters and push notifications to build habits with newly converted subscribers.
That’s the sweet and now the sour from today. I got my start in journalism at a small local newspaper in western Kansas. My editor at the Hays Daily News Mike Corn used to joke, “It’s not the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from here.”
When I was there, things were lean, and I got my job just before a hiring freeze was instituted. In terms of newspapers, even though my career started in the mid-1990s, I never knew the golden age of the industry that some journalists hearken back to. The piece referred to those times and the fat margins papers had then as they enjoyed local monopolies:
For a while, though, newspapers were easy money: In most communities, the newspaper faced little competition and could charge high rates to advertisers. The result, as Lehigh University professor Jeremy Littau noted in a widely shared Twitter thread in January, is that in the 1990s, companies like Knight Ridder – which owned the Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star before selling to current owner McClatchy – had profit margins of 30 percent or more.
Harris Enterprises sold to Gatehouse in 2016. Gatehouse has a reputation for pretty deep cuts and centralised production out of a central hub in Austin Texas. The cuts have been deep, and the piece explains what those cuts mean to communities civically and otherwise.
But I’ll end on this somewhat optimistic note:
If there’s hope for strengthening the connection between news organizations and the communities they serve, then it might come first in those places where news gatherers have to form the closest of ties. There are still plenty of places in Kansas where locally owned papers are persevering.
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Thompson now is the top editor at Wired. He was asked: Why print? “There are wonderful things about a print magazine,” Thompson said, but he said that that as a group, they are mostly focused on digital and started making that transition 15 years ago.
And he talked about his surprise at the stories that drove the most subscriptions. The long-meaty features drove a lot of subscriptions, but he was surprised that the 65th most read feature about a genius neuroscientist that is driving AI. It didn’t deliver a lot of traffic by their standards, but it was the second most driver of subs last year. But good listicles also drove subs as well.
“In almost every category of content, the best stuff we did drove subscriptions,” he said. “It was a little surprising but also heartening.”
That’s a great insight. It’s not necessarily the format but the execution.
Again, welcome to the new subscribers, and I would love to borrow some of your attention. Drop me an email (there is an address easily findable on this site) or send it via Twitter to @kevglobal If you still haven’t subscribed, you can easily do so on my profile page on Nuzzel.
At the public media group where I work, we’re seeing some early indications that Insta is helping us reach parts of our community that we want to serve but we currently aren’t connecting with. For instance, we recently ran a series about African-American women who had suffered trauma in their lives and how they received support. Our posts on Instagram took off, while they didn’t get much traction on Facebook, which is the opposite of what we normally see.
One of my next features for What’s New in Publishing will be about different paid content models that tap into motivations beyond metered paywalls. My motivation is that metered paywalls work well for high-volume sites, but I’ve managed local sites for the last several years of my career. And a metered paywall isn’t necessarily the right solution for lower-volume local sites.
I also know that paid content services such as LaterPay and Agate, both run by FoK (Friends of Kevin), have other time-based concepts including day-passes, month-passes or all you can eat after you have read a set number of articles on an Agate-enabled site. It’s a great way to get people into the conversion funnel.
And as always, there is plenty more in the newsletter – usually another seven to nine articles. If you want to subscribe, there is a sign up form on Nuzzel profile, and feel free to send along story ideas on Twitter to @kevglobal, especially ones outside of the US.
I’m back from a much-needed mini-break so Tuesday is the new Monday, well at least for me this week. Up first today in today’s media newsletter is a review of a talk by Adam Davison, the Head of Insight and Data Science at The Economist. The great write-up by Esther Kezia Thorpe looks at the evolution of The Economist’s paid content strategy over the last 20 years. This really builds on the post I highlighted last week that pointed out that businesses that get better are businesses that get smarter. They are constantly working and refining their model.
The killer quote by Davison was this one in which the business was trying to evaluate the trade-offs to certain business decisions whether that was advertising versus reader revenue or the number of articles that a reader had access to before hitting the paywall. Davison said:
Historically, we’ve not been very data-driven when evaluating these trade-offs basically. It’s been very much sort of…business strategy gut feel, maybe a little bit of data here and there, but probably not used anything like as effectively as it could have been. So I think with this latest transition, I really wanted to try to do this the right way, use data to be as informed as possible when we made this decision.
Read the whole piece, but the other thing that really stood out was how their data strategy has changed. The Economist has had to break down data silos in their business. They had data and talented analysts across the business, but they worked in isolation.
I have seen this in the work that I do. Editorial teams have data, usually quantitative, but marketing teams often have more information about the habits and preferences of audiences. Both pools of data can be useful to the other team.
Thanks to everyone who has subscribed to the newsletter, and if you haven’t already, you can get the full list of stories in your inbox. Subscribe here, and if there is a story that you think should be included, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.
The top story in my media business newsletter today definitely challenges conventional wisdom. Trevor Kaufman, the CEO of paid content platform Piano, says that most people believe that when you launch a paid content strategy that you grow at first but then plateau as you convert the core of your addressable market. I have to admit that from most of the examples that I have seen and even some media properties that I have managed that this is the case.
“After all, once you convert the converted, who is left?” he asks rhetorically. He goes on to challenge that view and says that Piano is finding that those publishers that invest in working their conversion funnel get better at converting.
We took a random sampling of our customers that have been in business between four and nine quarters, comparing their first two quarters with their last two. We found those with just a year behind them experienced increases of up to 50% in their average number of new monthly subscribers. And for those with nine quarters behind them, growth rates reached more than 2000% on average.
Conversely, those clients who didn’t work it, didn’t invest, didn’t learn not only plateaued but declined. And I think Kaufman points out another key difference: The companies that invested and excelled changed their business, just like the New York Times has, to subscription-focused businesses.