US Specialist media best practice and innovation

US specialist media

How are US specialist media businesses, consumer and B2B, innovating? What can we learn from their evolving business models?  A market of 300 million provides a strong audience for even very niche content. Earlier this year I researched dozens of specialist publishers from the US and selected twenty for in-depth case studies. This became a 70-page report for Media Makers Meet.

In this article I have picked out some of the best practice from that report.

Innovating content and editorial proposition

Niche communities are driven by engagement, and smart publishers are ready to repackage their content and experiment with new formats.

  • Community-driven content – such as the local chapters that Her Campus Media runs to encourage student journalists to submit articles
  • Explainer journalism – such as the StoryStream format developed by The Verge to analyse breaking news stories
  • Broadcasting – such as the virtual events that FreightWaves hosted with guests, combining data and real time news
  • Data-driven content – such as the digests that EnerKnol creates for energy professionals using algorithms to summarise public reports
  • Useful tools – such as EB Medicine’s insurance claim code tracker for emergency medicine clinicians
  • Product reviews – such as Freightwaves’ stand-alone Ratings for product reviews

Innovating product format and extension

Specialist media are investing in traditional formats and transferring content to new media.

  • Investing in print, such as Stampington, who invested in design, photography and paper stock for its bookazine style craft magazines
  • Upgrading web – such as Firecrown, who redesigned its website, improved user experience, and switched off programmatic ads
  • Podcasts and audio – such as FreightWaves’ launch of What The Truck podcast for trucking sector
  • Video – such as Donut, which produces 100+ videos pa for auto enthusiasts
  • Newsletters – such as Workweek, who helps its independent experts grow audience reach with email newsletters
  • Education and learning – such as Active Interest Media, who produce Writers Digest University
  • Tournaments – such as Marlin magazine, which runs international tournaments and expeditions in offshore fishing

Developing new revenue streams

Specialist media these days need multiple revenue streams, tapping into different segments of a sector or market.

  • Subscription packages – such as Skift, whose membership package for travel industry professionals includes digital content, data and live event tickets
  • E-commerce – such as The Sporting News which generates affiliate revenues for ticket and merchandise sales
  • Live events – such as HBR who launched Future of Business and Leaders who Make a Difference events
  • Platform – such as Workweek’s digital engagement platform, including newsletters, advertising, community and services which is available to independent B2B experts

Expanding into adjacent markets and new verticals

Specialist publishing skills can be applied to connected or adjacent markets via launch or acquisition.

  • Her Campus Media acquired related community-driven GenZ products in fashion and food and launched into the influencer and recruitment sectors
  • Questex uses data insights to sport emerging interest groups for new event launches
  • Old Farmer’s Almanac has moved into gardening with handbooks, e-commerce and garden-planning software

Innovating advertiser propositions

Commercial partners are demanding customised content for specific audiences, enhanced data and measurable RoI. So specialist media businesses are developing more sophisticated ad propositions.

  • Industry Dive has enhanced ad results for clients tracking campaigns and offers new self-service tools for advertisers
  • FreightWaves’ new marketing tool allows clients to automatically create data-driven market reports
  • Questex collects behavioural data from event delegates and digital content consumers to help marketers target more accurately
  • TMB (Trusted Media brands) applies in-house video skills and data on audience behaviour to develop tailored advertising campaigns

Expanding internationally

Whilst the US is in itself a vast market, some publishers have expanded internationally, such as The Sporting News which is now in more than ten territories and five languages, doubling its audience reach.

Smart data and AI

Many specialist media innovators are analysing audience data and testing AI to add value to editorial products.

  • EnerKnol has developed EKAI assistant to allow users to receive instant insights with primary source links, and plans to use AI for document summaries
  • Skift launched an AI tool, Ask Skift, trained on their archive to offer subscribers deeper answers to queries
  • HBR plans to launch an AI assistant providing real-time answers to leadership questions

Find out more

To download the full report free of charge, use this link.

If you want to discuss the research in more depth and how these ideas can be applied to your specialist media business, please get in touch for a chat over a real or virtual coffee.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has acquired, launched, built, and sold specialist media businesses in print, digital and events. She now advises niche consumer and B2B publishers on developing new products and digital revenue streams as a consultant and NED.

Read more about Carolyn

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