Sustainably profitable digital publishing - #newsrw

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Kathryn Corrick

Panel discussion on sustainable business models, chaired by Kathryn Corrick, digital media consultant.
lucia adamsLucia Adams, The Times – When they launched a paywall, people predicted a disaster. But it hasn’t turned out that way, and now all the newspapers are trying to solve the same problem. The big change is the advent of smartphone apps and tablets – which has opened the doors for other publishers to charge. Most still shy away from charging for web, but sites like The Economist are happier to do so. 190,000 130,000 digital subs [corrected my mishearing], 170,00 print subs. They have a bigger paying audience before. They make more money from subs and ads in digital than they did from ads alone. However – it changes their relationship with readers, to this idea of experience, not just pumping out articles.

The cost of acquiring a new customer is more than maintaining an old one. Understanding the value of the relationship is a big focus of their journalism. Engagement is not just nice to have, it’s a business imperative. It’s about thinking about what happens to the story afterwards… The story is a beginning of a relationship with a reader. The cycle campaign was a lively example of this. It was a conscious decision that the story was just the beginning of a series of touchpoints and calls to action.

Their experimentation helps them understand how people consume their journalism. Will blogs win? Will Twitter win? She knows no-one who only has one thing in their lives. The Live Hub is a second screen experience for tablets to accompany the Olympics. If they hadn’t been focusing on the reader, they’d never have arrived at something like this. They’ve learned and adapted as their business model changes. 
Dennis MortensenDennis Mortensen, Visual Revenue: How do you figure out story demand in advance? Once you’ve figured it out, how do you decide which resources to commit? But he doesn’t want to talk about those. When you have articles done, which you want to go out and promote, there’s where you have an opportunity. THey see people having success when they figure out which channels to compete in. Some channels we focus on, some we virtually ignore – do your work your RSS feed? Maybe you should. Maybe it’s a dramatic part of the article views you get every day. They sold their previous comp may to Yahoo – it’s a fun place to be if you like data. You have a marketplace, where some products will be sold and some not. That’s how Google looks at things – mix of paid (inorganic) and free (organic) search results. When you promote a story in the homepage of a site, you pay with opportunity cost. You wasted that space, if it doesn’t work. If you go against the interest and will of your audience you should know. They’ve come up with a model to predict which stories will perform best in which places. 
Stephen FolwellStephen Folwell,** Guardian News & Media**: Three years ago he was doing  piece of work to prove that it was worth investing in digital rather than print. Amazing that was only three years ago. He’s annoyed that The Times have a liveblogging Olympics platform. They have one, too. Their old model was guessing what people wanted, creating it, building an audience, and selling adverts. In the new operating model, they want to be at the heart of, and serving communities. People discover and share communities, commercial partners get access to those conversations, and The Guardian can sell products to them.

They used to have a paid-for lesson plan resources for teachers called LessonPlan. They turned it free a year and a half ago, to serve a community of teachers. As a result of that, they’re selling recruitment advertising, and starting to make the competition feel more uncomfortable. They’re working to live stream opera, but give it editorial context. They’re getting a “progressives” audience – forward-looking individuals who are curious about the world and technology. Digitally savvy, socially conscious, and more likely than average to blog or be involved in social networks. Ad agencies like that community. The average age on the Facebook app is 29, on mobile 33, on the web 37 and in print 44. They’re creating complementary audiences with the channels. And they’re accessing times of day which weren’t accessible before – like the evening, where there’s a lot of ad spend available. Facebook is big after school, then iPad as you go into the evening. There’s an experimental Google TV app in the states for their video content. Other device manufacturers have come to them looking to use it, too.

They encourage people to sign in with their social sign-up, which is new to the site. That helps with retention and targeting. They want bigger audience, who are better engaged, and whom they understand better. 
john barnesJohn Barnes, Incisive Media: If you look at what’s happened in their digital journalism journey, they’ve moved from big volumes to niche communities – which is great for B2B. Competing for volume drives down CPM. Trust is the most valuable asset they’ve got. They want to take that trust and make their content available to people where they want when they want it. AOP figures show that readers take adverts on trusted content sites more seriously. They use Scout and Google Analytics, as well as Google Live, to understand what their audience are doing on the site. Scout Analytics has some interesting ways of defining categories. They’re mostly interested in the “Fans” category, and they want to move “Flybys” into “Fans” – and they think they can do that by using devices and context.

People have got much more selective on the web. They have very high bounce-rates, but if they got what they wanted, that’s great. They see iPads as a good way of moving them to a more elective experience rather than a selective one. The iPad is for discovery, the web for in-depth research. Fly-bys are 11 times less valuable, because they’re only being magnetised through selling eyeballs. As they move through their systems, they gather more data about the customers, which can be used to make them into the most valuable “Fans”. They’re mainly gated sites, and more AOP research shows that subscription people spend longer on the site when they’re inside the paywall, and have a lower bounce rate. They’ve got about 10 minutes dwell now – they want to drive that up. The longer they’re there, the more opportunities there are to sell them conference tickets, subscriptions, etc.

They encourage their teams to think about the devices differently. What does an iPad edition collectively add, and how was it synchronous with the rest of what they do. One size does not fit all. Mobile is Immediate, Desktop Informative and Tablet Reflective. They want high-quality content that people can’t get elsewhere – their experts and unique opinion, as well as reader comments. When the Japan crisis hit, they wanted to target specific headlines for their markets, not generalist ones. If you just publish volumes to devices, and don’t think about your users, you’re not building any sustainability.


Good discussion on the relevance of home pages. Dennis maintained that they’re an important channel that can be optimised, and be a big chunk of their traffic. John Barnes disagreed vigorously, arguing that – for an engaged audience – every page is an effective home page. Stephen fell somewhere in between, saying that the have big fights over homepage placement, but they’re getting better at optimising their other pages. And Lucia suggested that the situation is complicated by the device in play.

analyticsB2Bbusiness modelsdatanews:rewiredniche contentpaywallsThe GuardianThe Timesuser data

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.