Chartbeat’s 2019 lessons for publishers who want more subscribers

On target, by viZZZual.com, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Occasionally there is an article that really stands out from all of the other media business intelligence, and today, the top story in my media newsletter today is one to bookmark. Nancy Lee, a senior product manager with Chartbeat, summarises 400 hours of research the analytics company did on subscriptions.

There is so much in this post and so many times that I was agreeing violently, but I’ll just highlight some of the points that really stood out for me.

  • Publishers’ infrastructure is still focused on advertising-led businesses and have not kept pace with the shift to reader revenue.
  • Email is still a neglected and overlooked channel for many publishers. “The energy behind email’s return is that it remains the most cost efficient way to test conversion and retention strategies. There’s little risk and plenty of reward for readers to opt-in to newsletters and other distribution lists.”
  • The point that really leapt out at me was how editorial thinking and content strategy are now being married to product thinking. And they touch on the cultural issues that can arise in that shift in thinking. That’s an entire article on its own.

This post is a great conversation starter, and it’s so economical in its communication. I will definitely be using it when we have some of these conversations in my shop.

As always, if you’re not a subscriber to the newsletter yet, click on over to my Nuzzel profile page. And if you have a story that you think should be on the site, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.

What a veteran journalist learned in launching and scaling a digital start-up

Business launch. An illustration of a man in business casual clothes holding a flag as he stands on a rocket. By Mohamed Hassan/pxhere.com
By Mohamed Hassan / pxhere.com

I often say that in the disrupted media businesses that journalists are all freelancers now, or to put it another, more positive way, we all have to be much more entrepreneurial than we have been in the past. That being said, making the move from being a jobbing journalist into an entrepreneur or business owner can be a major shift.

That is why the top story in my international media newsletter today is an interview with Jeff Kofman, the CEO of Trint. Jeff sums up his journey best:

As a reporter with 30 years in the field as a foreign correspondent, as a war correspondent, I just had no experience building a team, raising money, managing a company. It was an incredibly steep learning curve.

Jeff Kofman on how AI can empower newsrooms , from the Global Editors Network

The service uses AI to automate the laborious process of transcription while also adding searchability and discoverability. I like services like this because I often say that I would rather outsource tasks like this to robots rather than treat journalists like robots. It frees journalists up to add value.

The biggest challenge for media leaders is choosing where they think their journalists add value. This is important in creating a content strategy when we’re trying to determine how to make that value exchange clear so that audiences will become paying members or subscribers.

And in building his company, he has learned this important lesson: Even if you’re competing with much bigger competitors – in his world Google and Microsoft – that there is value in focusing on one task and doing that task incredibly well.

Today’s newsletter is truly international with stories from Europe, Asia and Africa. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please visit my Nuzzel profile page and click on the blue subscribe button. And if you spot a story that you think should be in the newsletter, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.

How Schibsted’s ‘future lab’ is looking for new media business models

a starry night sky in the background with several silhouetted people looking through telescopes.
Amateur astronomers from across the country volunteer their expertise and offer free nightly astronomy programs and free telescope viewing. National Park Service/M.Quinn

TGIF! It’s Friday, and today’s top story in my international media newsletter is about Schibsted’s internal incubator, Schibsted Next Media.

John Einar Sandvand of Schibsted says the unit is the group’s “future lab”. He quotes one of the product managers of the group, Fanny Chays, who says, “Our ambition is to find the next generation of media companies for Schibsted.”

In addition to managing a couple of existing products, they also explore “so-called bets for potential future products”. They use a four-step process in identifying product bets:

  • Phase 1: Frame the challenge.
  • Phase 2: Problem solution fit. 
  • Phase 3: Product market fit. 
  • Phase 4: Scale!

Check at the full post at WAN-IFRA.

And here are the stories that you read the most in the past week:

  1. How Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter halved subscriber churn in 2 years, Digiday
  2. How Publishers Can Start Monetizing Smart Speakers, Pubishing Executive
  3. ‘Make something people need:’ How BBC Good Food is getting ahead in voice search | What’s New in Publishing | Digital Publishing News, What’s New in Publishing
  4. How BuzzFeed is making its video shows business sustainable, Digiday
  5. WIRED Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Thompson on lessons from a year behind a paywall, Media Voices Podcast

And that’s another week. Thanks so much for reading and also for subscribing to the newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed, go to my Nuzzel profile, and if you spot a media business story that you think should be included, shoot to me on Twitter, @kevglobal.

How The (London) Times cut churn with its AI-powered newsletters

A cartoon drawing of a robot on a plaster wall.
Robo(t), by Daniel Lobo, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

At work, my hip-hop name is K-Fun, as in Kevin and conversion funnel. I’m semi-obsessed with how we can convert casual users into, in the case of the public media stations I work for, members.

So it should come as no surprise that the top story in today’s newsletter is about how The Times (of London is using AI and newsletters to reduce subscriber churn.

In my work, I’m focused on the top of the funnel – growing our audience – and the first stages of the conversion process. But for groups like The Times, which has been building its paid content strategy for years now, the focus is much farther down the funnel, on retention. Converting casual users to members or subscribers becomes a Sisyphean task if you have a high churn rate, a high rate at which you lose subscribers.

The Times is using AI to send personalised newsletters based on readers interests. Basically, they are using technology to send the right content at the right to time to subscribers on a level that would not be scalable if it relied simply on human editors. The halving of the churn rate was determined by comparing the churn of a group that received the newsletter generated by the AI and a control group.

Nicely for The Times, a £1m grant from Google’s News Initiative helped pay for the trial, which is a good reason for news organisations in North America to apply for the new challenge that Google is running there. I mentioned the challenge in yesterday’s newsletter.

Thanks for reading, and if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so easily on my Nuzzel profile page, and please, if you spot an international media business story I should include, flag it up to me on Twitter, @kevglobal.

How ESPN is getting smarter with its Snapchat strategy

A hand holds a cube with the Snapchat logo
Snapchat User, by Blogtrepreneur, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello dear readers, in today’s international media newsletter, the story that stood out for me was one looking at the success that ESPN is having with Snapchat. Snapchat, you remember that app, right? The one that Instagram has copy-pasted feature after feature?

As I often say in social media training sessions, Snapchat is mostly pointless for media folks – especially local media folks or media operations outside of the US and UK. The caveat to that is apart from a handful of verticals like fashion, or I guess sports.

As this Digiday+ ($$$) article points out, ESPN is running against the trend. The New York Times has ‘paused’ their channel, but ESPN is finding that their Snap efforts are helping drive viewers and revenue.

In addition to that, a few other headlines in today’s newsletter:

If you haven’t subscribed you, you can do so on my Nuzzel profile page, and if you spot something, let me know on Twitter. I hope to get comments working again on the ‘ole blog here, but that is a work in progress.

Can free iPads help an Arkansas newspaper wean readers off of print?

Apple iPad, by John Karakatsanis, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello new subscribers and long-time readers! I’m back after my long bank holiday weekend.

Lots of interesting news over the long weekend, but a story out of the US state of Arkansas caught my eye for my media newsletter today. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which goes out to the entire state, is promising readers that their subscription price will stay the same, $36, but it won’t be coming to them daily in print. The paper will still be printed and delivered on Sunday, but other days, they will have to read it digitally. And to sweeten the offer, the newspaper is offering a free iPad to read the ‘paper’ digitally.

As Rick Edmonds at the Poynter Institute pointed out in the AP story, this has been tried before. It hasn’t been a roaring success.

I think that this might be worth watching because the publisher is going out to civic clubs to make the pitch in person, and the newspaper isn’t just offering a free iPad but also training on how to use the digital edition. Will the personal touch be enough to win over subscribers and return the paper to profit by 2020? It’s one to watch.

If you’d like this story and others daily, you can subscribe to my international media newsletter on my Nuzzel profile page. And please, send along media business stories to me on Twitter, @kevglobal.

How the Seattle Times earned $400,000 from its morning newsletter

H&R Block, from Giphy

Talking about newsletters in my newsletter today. How meta.

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.

Poytner has a great interview with Kris Higginson, the editor and lead writer for the Seattle Times’ Morning Brief newsletter. Higginson will be leading a seminar on 25 May about developing a successful newsletter at Poynter.

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.

Behind the success of The Seattle Times’ Morning Brief newsletter, by Mel Grau, Poynter

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.

How to make money with smart speakers

Fun things to ask Alexa on New Year’s Eve, by methodshop.com, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

And the new subscribers keep coming! Welcome, and please let your friends know about the newsletter.

Today’s newsletter is full of actionable intelligence for the media leader. As for the top story, it might have to do with the fact that I’m currently working for a public broadcasting group, but a story with a comprehensive rundown of ways that you can make money from smart speakers caught my eye today.

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:

Thanks again to the new subscribers, and please share the newsletter with your colleagues and people who you think might be interested. And please share with me stories that catch your eye, on Twitter, @kevglobal And if you want to subscribe, please go to my Nuzzel profile.

Buzzfeed’s video biz is the black thanks to cross-platform ad deals

Three flower pots with British 10 pound notes in them with a silver water can in front of them.

Pots of money, by Images Money, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

The newsletter continues to grow, and I wanted to welcome new subscribers.

In my international media newsletter today, the top story today looks at how Buzzfeed’s video business is moving towards sustainability by developing cross-platform ad deals. The deals are primarily focused on YouTube and Facebook, but they also sell on SnapChat. The strategy is delivering revenue in the high tens of millions, according to Digiday.

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.

I also highlight a great piece by my friend Esther Kezia Thorpe at What’s New in Publishing about how the BBC with its Good Food magazine is using voice search. “Make something people need.” Great advice for any of your digital efforts.

Thanks for subscribing to the newsletter, and if you haven’t, go to my Nuzzel profile. And feel free to share interesting stories with me @kevglobal on Twitter (and most social networks).

How Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter slashed churn and other paid content lessons


 Every morning Dagens Nyheter, by Elgar Hollard, from Wikimedia Commons

Hello and welcome to even more new subscribers! New subscribers mean that this is useful to you and keeps me excited to continue doing this.

Today’s newsletter is like Chinese takeout, a bit of sweet and sour. First, the sweet: Digiday has a great piece looking at how Dagens Nyheter has halved churn over the last couple of years. Digital subscribers overtook print ones in May of this year. They are converting 2000 subscribers a week, and digital subscriber revenue has overtaken advertising as their largest digital revenue stream.

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.”

The Hays Daily News was part of a family-owned regional group, Harris Enterprises, and it pained me to read this deep dive into the decline of the papers that used to be part of the group and other papers across Kansas.

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.


As newspapers dwindle, residents in Hutchinson and elsewhere notice what’s missing , by Joel Mathis, The Journal

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.

Thanks again to the new subscribers. If you don’t get this in your inbox, sign up on my Nuzzel profile page, and send along any stories you might spot to me on Twitter @kevglobal.