Publisher revenue opportunities abound
In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, you, as a publisher, need to diversify your revenue streams for long term success. While advertising has traditionally been your bread and butter, the shifting sands of the media world require a fresh perspective.
Embrace the digital revolution, not just as a change, but as an opportunity.So let’s get to the strategy with the biggest upside: It’s time to harness the potential of digital subscriptions. Set up correctly, you can grow your audience by nurturing passive online browsers into dedicated, paying readers.
There are also a dizzying amount of other revenue channels such as selling your content to syndication partners. You can create sponsored content, host paid/sponsored events or offer value-added services like industry-specific research and consultancy. Every new product, every service, and every interaction is an opportunity to grow and create value for your audience and, in turn, your publication.
So, what actually works today?
Let’s dive into 5 key audience growth and revenue areas:
1. Subscription/membership revenue
Where to start: your metered paywall. It plays a critical role in building traffic via search and social sharing and converting that traffic into paid subscriptions. Essentially, it’s a balance between making content freely accessible for SEO and sharing purposes, and monetizing that same content. With a metered paywall, publishers allow users to view a certain number of articles for free each month. This allows search engines to index the content, improving visibility and SEO, while also facilitating social sharing as readers can share articles without paywall restrictions.
Level up: Publishers can introduce further strategies to enhance monetization. One approach is hardening the paywall by blocking incognito or private browsing. By blocking this, publishers can ensure that their content is adequately valued and monetized, and it converts about 5-10% more subscriptions.
One other paid option: For those readers who appreciate your content but may not be ready for a full subscription, a pay-per-article option can be an effective strategy. This microtransaction model allows readers to purchase access to individual articles that they find valuable or interesting, offering an intermediate step between free access and full subscription. The key here is to make sure your individual content piece has enough value to get over the friction of paying.
Other key subscription revenue tactics that we have proven to work:
- Sell an ad-free plan
- Sell corporate and group subscriptions
- Sell a family plan
- Lean into gift subscriptions, they should be 20% of your subscription revenue (if you have a giftable publication)
2. Audience growth
Your free registration plan: Setting up a free registration wall is a game-changer for growing your audience. By offering a few additional free articles in exchange for an email address, publishers can entice readers to engage more with their content. This strategy grows your email list and creates a direct channel of communication with your audience via your newsletter in their email inbox.
Speaking of your newsletter: An added advantage of this registration is that users will receive your publication’s newsletter. Your newsletter drives the reader back to your website to read new articles. Reading more articles means triggering subscription upgrade messages. Readers benefit by staying up-to-date with your latest content. Don’t forget to promote the value proposition of a full subscription in your free newsletter. Repeated nudging the readers towards becoming paying subscribers works.
Reduce the friction: Another benefit is that free registration reduces the friction when the reader decides to pay for your subscription. Since their basic information is already in your system, they only need to add their credit card details on checkout. This streamlined process can significantly enhance the user experience and increase the likelihood of paidi conversion.
3. Audience engagement
Audience engagement is instrumental in driving new subscriptions and reducing churn among existing subscribers. You need to add value to subscriptions, making readers feel more connected with your publication.
- Premium Newsletter: Offering a premium newsletter exclusively for paid subscribers is a potent engagement tool. It can be filled with subscriber only content, deliver full text articles (so paid subscribers don’t have to click or log in on your site), or early delivery. This exclusivity can make the subscription more attractive to potential subscribers and give existing subscribers a sense of value, making them less likely to churn.
- Exclusive Paid-Only Content: Offer exclusive content that only paid subscribers can access. This can be in-depth investigative reports, unique columns, data visualizations, or multimedia content that provide additional context or depth to the regular news stories. This exclusive content rewards subscribers for their financial contribution and reinforces the value they’re getting from their subscription.
- Access to Commenting and Reading: Restricting article commenting and reading rights to paid subscribers only can stimulate a sense of community and exclusivity. This creates a dedicated space for like-minded, invested individuals to discuss and engage with the content and with each other, enriching the user experience and fostering loyalty.
- Interaction with Authors: Implementing features like author Q&A or allowing subscribers to ask authors questions through SMS services like Subtext can greatly enhance engagement. This opens up a direct line of communication between the readers and authors, fostering a personal connection. Subscribers can be notified of content via SMS, adding a real-time interactive element that can significantly boost user engagement and paid conversions.
- iOs & Android Apps: Providing a dedicated app for subscribers can enhance the reading experience. Subscribers with apps enjoy convenient and offline reading as well as push notifications for breaking or important content. Apps add a level of complexity to your publication but they do improve retention and add value in convincing readers to subscribe.
By offering these engagement features, publishers can create a unique and compelling subscription offering that adds value beyond the content itself, making both potential and existing subscribers feel valued and part of a community.
4. Premium newsletters
Premium newsletters serve as a powerful tool in a publisher’s arsenal. They can be leveraged either as a value-add to existing subscriptions or as standalone products that readers can pay for separately. These newsletters offer multiple benefits and can be designed to provide a premium, immersive experience for the reader.
- Limited or No Advertising: Premium newsletters often come with the advantage of limited or no advertising. This allows for an uninterrupted, clean reading experience, making the content more enjoyable and easier to digest. It’s a value proposition that can certainly justify a higher price point or contribute to the perceived value of an existing subscription.
- Full Text Content: Rather than sending excerpts that require the reader to click through and login to your site, consider providing full-text articles within the premium newsletter itself. This removes a layer of friction for the reader and offers them immediate access to high-quality content. This convenience and ease of access can make the premium newsletter more appealing and user-friendly.
- Early Delivery for Time-Sensitive Content: If you publish content that’s time-sensitive or market-driven, consider offering early delivery to premium newsletter subscribers. This ‘first-to-know’ advantage can be extremely valuable for subscribers who rely on your content to make informed decisions, making the premium newsletter a must-have tool for them.
- Exclusive Content: Including paid-subscriber-only content in your premium newsletter can also enhance its value. This can be in-depth analysis, exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes insights, or special features that are only available to premium subscribers. This makes the newsletter feel more exclusive and can significantly increase its perceived value.
- Subscriber Engagement: Encourage your paid subscribers to interact by replying to a dedicated email address. This opens up a direct line of communication, allowing them to ask questions, share feedback, or engage in discussions. This sense of direct engagement can make subscribers feel more connected to your publication and increase their satisfaction with their subscription.
In essence, a well-crafted premium newsletter can either amplify the value of an existing subscription or serve as a worthwhile standalone product, providing high-quality, engaging content and a superior reader experience.
5. Ad revenue via sponsorships
Traditional print and digital advertising, which once constituted the lion’s share of revenue for news publishers, has been witnessing a declining trend. As ad revenues decrease, publishers are innovating and shifting their strategies to remain sustainable.
A beacon in the midst of this trend is the focus on fewer, but higher-paying advertisers who sponsor the publication’s content. This model is more about building deep, meaningful relationships with sponsors rather than just selling ad space.
Sponsorships are typically sold in impactful bundles.
A couple of profitable examples
1. A prime example of this could be the sponsorship of your (previously mentioned) free registration plan for readers. In this scenario, sponsors can have their brand and message displayed alongside the registration form, giving them significant visibility to all new free registrations.
Additionally, their branding can also be included in every free email sent to these readers.
However, one important point to note is to resist the temptation to send dedicated emails featuring only the sponsor. This can often lead to a rise in unsubscribes. Readers subscribe for valuable content, and dedicated sponsor emails might be perceived as intrusive or excessive advertising, which can lead to higher unsubscribe rates.
2. Another example would be to watermark a sponsor’s brand on all photos in the sports section of a local news publication can be an excellent way to maximize the visibility of the sponsor while simultaneously delivering value to the reader. Sports sections typically draw a substantial number of readers, making them a perfect platform for impactful advertising.
Additionally, since sports photos are often shared on social media or other platforms, the sponsor’s logo would reach a wider audience beyond just the readers of the publication. This increases the value of the sponsorship and strengthens the relationship between the publisher and the sponsor.
There are more sponsor opportunities (events, etc,) and focusing on impactful, bundled sponsorships, publishers can forge stronger relationships with fewer advertisers, and create a more sustainable and potentially lucrative revenue model, all while maintaining a quality, ad-lite experience for their readers.
Modern content publishers are adapting to new revenue models, combining metered paywalls and free registrations with engaging features for a larger, more committed readership. Premium newsletters add value and can serve as individual paid products, providing an enhanced reader experience. Although traditional advertising yields are on the decline, there’s a shift towards sponsorships. In this evolving landscape, success lies in a balanced approach that puts both readers and advertisers at the center of the publisher’s strategy.