What’s happening:

A decade after the shift to digital publishing, media companies have still not really figured out how to convert to a reader-revenue model, as opposed to a print subscription and advertising-based one. From his experience working at The Boston Globe and McClatchy, Damon Kiesow wrote a detailed guide to assist publishers in the technical and strategic challenges to achieve this.


Why it matters:

Launching a paywall is easy. Pivoting a whole business from an advertising-centric mindset to one focused on reader revenue is not. Fundamental changes and a deeper understanding of audience are needed to develop the culture, technology and skills to successfully transition to reader membership and subscription revenue programs. Kiesow’s report addresses what it really means to shift to reader revenue — which really means shifting to a focus on trust, loyalty and data.


What publishers need to do better:

  • Make reader revenue the top objective that the business is aligned around.
  • Data collection and analysis that drives business decisions.
  • Eliminate internal silos and streamline operations, to reduce time to market for new products.
  • Provide a better user experience online and in mobile.
  • Test, measure and market subscription program performance.
  • Establish a reader-first culture within the organisation.


Digging Deeper:

This reader-first culture is built on trust and loyalty. Digital products must value and the readers’ time and provide reliable information. This relationship with loyal, engaged readers should be prioritised, as opposed to visitor growth and page views. Business models structured around scale are often at the expense of quality, favour advertisers over readers, and alienate the audience.

A data-focused culture will help publishers reach their goals. Companies need to understand their reader data, which should be updated daily if not hourly, and accessible to everyone in the organisation. Key executives should agree on core objectives, these should be communicated throughout the company, and decisions should be made from them.

Understanding the audience at a deep level, with a “single view, single voice” approach. This means providing each visitor with a more relevant experience that increases their engagement; recognising patterns in subscription behaviour; targeting content and products; and reducing conflicting messages.


The bottom line:

More data isn’t the solution, but rather deeper insights into the data, and using it to inform decisions that improve the reader relationship and experience. To effectively do this, publishers need to:

  • Perform an enterprise-wide data audit
  • Conduct a staff and skills analysis
  • Prioritise data needs
  • Improve marketing skills
  • Align departments to focus on reader revenue

At the end of the guide, Kiesow shares tactics for applying data-driven insights that will grow reader revenue, and building a culture that’s focused on reader revenue. The Reader Revenue Toolkit is available here.

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