Consumer media pioneers: evergreen content, UGC, gamification, experimentation

At the Specialist Media Conference pioneering consumer publishers shared their latest thinking on how to package content across different platforms for a specialist audience.    They were all experimenting with new ways to engage their readers, get them to contribute and ultimately pay for valuable content and services.  Here we delve into the detail to provide some key insights:

1. Waste nothing; all content is new to your latest reader

Ryan O Meara of Total Pet Publishing hates the waste in traditional print publishing and exhorted publishers to reuse their content as ebooks and web articles.  Editors should focus on creating content that is “evergreen” and repackage it to new audiences.  Every time a new subscriber or member joins, the back catalogue is all fresh new content to them.  In the pet market, there are ultra niches, based around conditions for specific breeds; this content is highly valued by readers.  The audience smiled when he compared his publishing business to a pig: nothing is ever wasted!

2. Engage enthusiastic users to curate content and contribute

Duncan Tickell of Magicalia has been developing hyperlocal minisites in the parenting market; and now has 400 sites, populated with third party feeds and running local forums.  They have recruited over 40 community managers: volunteers who curate the local content. Some local versions now have over 300 active members.   This approach could apply to  many niche audiences which have a local grass roots community and activities.  In the outdoors market Magicalia has been adopting “gamification” by offering readers points for community activity such as forum posts and kit reviews.  This drove gear reviews by 1700%.

3. Work with the platform owners and experiment

Ben Greenish of Spectator is a strong advocate of the “experimental” approach, and was disarmingly candid about the deficiencies of their early attempts in digital publishing. So far the much-hyped “i-things” still only generate low subscription revenues, but the big win is likely to be sponsorship. Ben encouraged publishers to equip their sales teams with ipads and demo’d his ipad app-style media pack. He advocates positive engagement with Apple. His surprise success has been Kindle; for the Spectator it generates four times the revenue of the “i-things” and they have negotiated improved revenue shares. This inspired at least two publishers in the room to investigate putting content onto Kindle. Ben’s final piece of advice was to nominate a project leader for digital content delivery.

4. Encourage readers to contribute – and embrace video

Miles Galliford shared the case study of niche publisher Preaching Today.  They identified a need for illustrations for sermons, and an increasing use of powerpoint and video in church.  They encouraged their members to contribute ideas for sermons to their existing database, and have now built up 10,000 subscriptions at $70.  They charge members extra fees to download videos from a library of 1000 clips.  A great example of using reader content to augment a database; they are now expanding into events and extending beyond the US.

5. Accept the pace of change: all platforms will coexist

The Consumer Media panel were asked: Is print dead?  Emphatically not, as many readers prefer a mixed package of printed magazine and digital content.  This view is supported by the  research carried out for the show. But the horizon is getting closer; where once we talked of twenty years, it now feels more like five…  Whilst it’s easy to get obsessed with the abundance of quantitative data in digital publishing, it’s still important to get a direct view from the consumer with “old-fashioned” qualitative research.  Several publishers noted that traffic from their own on-site forums seemed to be migrating to social media platforms.

So while the future is uncertain, it’s worth experimenting with new platforms, as you may uncover unexpected new revenues.  Do you agree with the speakers?  Is your publishing experience different?  Please comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in and swap ideas and tips with 600 other specialist media professionals.

Look out for more articles based on the content of the conference on this blog.    Sign up to the Specialist Media Show newsletter for news of future events, recent research and inspiring case studies.

About the author:  Carolyn Morgan is MD of the Specialist Media Show and created the Conference agenda.  Her consultancy business, Penmaen Media, creates practical digital media and publishing strategies in niche markets.  She’s running a series of Digital Publishing Masterclasses over the next few months; more details here.