Survival tips for the exploded media business

Recently The Economist launched Espresso – a paid daily mobile news service – taking a weekly, analytical, long form publication into the world of mainstream news bites.  Just another example of how media brands are exploding into fragments of content scattered across the web, mobile apps and social media. Rather like Cornelia Parker’s famous exploding shed.

As digital media platforms proliferate and readers switch endlessly from one device to another during the day, media brands find it ever more complex to work out where to put their content fragments and how to tie it all back to a profitable business. These are the three big challenges they face:

  • Putting the right content on each platform
  • Attracting a dispersed audience
  • Converting them to engaged, paying users

So what are the survival strategies for a successful exploded media business?

1.    Create content assets that can travel

John O’Donnell, CTO of the FT, speaking at the BMI conference last month, emphasised the importance of building re-useable content assets, and adding useful meta-data: claiming “I would delete archive content without any metadata.”  As platforms proliferate it becomes essential to have an image with every article, and develop “rules” to determine how content is displayed on each digital platform.

2.    Build data that tracks reading behaviour

Knowing how people read content is crucial to refining how it is produced and when and where it is published.  The FT published news in the morning but it was consumed in the evening.  Their newsroom now has a dashboard that shows which articles are read and shared.  When Haymarket launched Campaign in the US, the editorial team focused on which articles were most commented and shared in setting priorities.

3.    Cast a wide net to build an audience

Social sharing has been an expanding traffic source for publishers in the last year, driven by the digital pure-plays like Buzzfeed and HuffPost.  Yet there are rumours that facebook will try to keep users on its own platform and not let them get diverted to publishers’ sites, so it pays to diversify traffic sources.  Even Buzzfeed is now investing in sophisticated segmented email newsletters to drive readers back to its site.

4.    Collect and aggregate reader data

Turning “tourists” into regular registered readers is the holy grail for many publishers, and it is worth checking online best practice in collecting emails, developing registration and logins, and mining data on how they read content across multiple devices.  The FT doubled their registration conversion rate from 3% to 6% through close attention to data.

5.    Entice them to paid services

Relying on an ad-funded model can be risky, so the ultimate goal is converting regular, registered readers to paid services.  The metered model has worked well for The Economist allowing registered readers to sample the content, and a similar approach is being adopted by the New Yorker, who permit 6 article views before the subscription wall comes down.

Once signed up, invest in a welcome programme to build engagement: research from Scout Analytics shows that the first 90 days are crucial to long term renewal rates.

So these steps should help to make the exploded media business a less daunting prospect. You are welcome to share any experiences or useful tips for other publishers.

About the author:  Carolyn Morgan has launched, grown, acquired and sold media businesses across print, digital and events.  She has programmed several highly regarded conferences on digital publishing and advises publishers on their digital strategy.

If you’d like a chat about how you can reinvent your publishing or media business for the digital age, please get in touch.

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