The Economist: Shifting from “gut feel” to a data-driven paywall strategy

Data driven, by John Spencer, from Flickr

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.


Inside the Economist’s data-driven paywall evolution, Esther Kezia Thorpe, What’s New in Publishing

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.

Highlight good discussions to encourage positive online debate

There has been a lot of handwringing about the broken-ness of comments online. Great comments take the right strategic editorial approach and a bit of effort. Did anyone really believe the only thing a media company needed to do was slap a comment box on the bottom of articles? Too often that seems like the case.

What still baffles me after all these years is the low-hanging fruit that most news organisations are missing with community. Digitally native media doesn’t miss these easy wins. For instance, Lifehacker has a Discussion of the Day. Walter Glenn sums up the idea:

Great discussions are par for the course here on Lifehacker. Each day, we highlight a discussion that is particularly helpful or insightful, along with other great discussions and reader questions you may have missed. Check out these discussions and add your own thoughts to make them even more wonderful!

It’s a simple and positive way to drive people to the editorial features focused on discussions. They even call their commenters participants. Simple touches that all communicate a positive sense about the conversations they want to create.

Why don’t newspapers do this more often and print the best responses in the paper as well? Highlighting the comments in print would be a way to reward the  best comments, and hey, it might also drive some print sales. It ain’t rocket science, just some simple strategic thinking about user engagement.

Lifehackerdiscussions