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Connect with younger readers

How Digital Publishers Can Connect with Younger Readers

Top Strategies to Connect with Younger Readers

Eighteen to 34. That’s the most coveted age demographic among brand advertisers. Because advertisers care so much about reaching consumers between the ages of 18 and 34, that’s also the demographic news publishers should be engaging with to keep their advertiser clients satisfied.

Consumers in the 18-to-34 demographic have more money to spend on the products and services that advertisers are selling, and they’re at an age where the money they earn is more likely to go towards expensive “toys” than investments. Consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are also less likely to have developed the types of brand loyalty that can be difficult, if not downright impossible, to break.

Basically, advertisers feel like they have a greater opportunity to convert consumers between the ages 18 and 34, making this a highly desired demographic.

The challenge here is that people who consume news tend to be older than this demographic, and that’s making it hard for local news publishers to charge a premium to advertise in their publications.

The Digital/Print Divide

The idea that people who consume news the most frequently tend to be older than the age demographic advertisers are trying to reach has been around for a long time, but new research is showing that the long held belief might not necessarily be rooted in truth.

It’s true that over the past decade, local newspapers have been having increasing difficulty finding new ways to connect with younger readers, leading to dissatisfaction and frustration among regular advertisers. According to Pew Research, 63% of news readers over age 65 prefer to read print papers. But among digital-first publications, the average age of readers is much younger.

Younger readers, the kind advertisers covet, are more likely to get their news through digital platforms than print. Eighty-one percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who would rather read their news than watch it on television prefer to get their news online. Even young adults who would rather watch their news than read it are switching to digital channels. According to that same Pew survey, 57% of 18- to 29-year-old news watchers prefer to get their news on television, and 37% prefer the web.

When it comes to advertising on news platforms, businesses are more likely to connect with younger readers when they advertise on digital publications than print or television. Digital publishers should be trumpeting these types of surveys in their media kits and other sales materials. Educating would-be advertisers about the benefits of running display and native advertising on digital-first publications, given the desirable demographics of their readers, is one of the first steps a sales team should take.

Of course, just having a web product doesn’t necessarily mean a publication is going to have a wealth of younger readers. Local news publications, in particular, can sometimes struggle to attract the attention of readers in their teens, twenties, and early thirties. For these publishers, in particular, we recommend the following strategies to connect with younger readers.

How to Connect with Younger Readers

#1: Meet them on their platforms
Young people might not be hanging out on the online platforms you’d expect. Many teens and twenty-somethings have traded in Facebook and Twitter for platforms like YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat. Finding ways to engage audiences on those platforms is an important first step in being able to connect with younger readers.

#2: Test migration strategies
How do you get the people who’ve followed your publication or “liked” your content on social media platforms to visit your website? The answer will be different for every publication, which is why we recommend experimenting and testing as much as possible during the early days. Catchy headlines, desirable incentives, and even online contests have been used effectively. For the Financial Times, simply adding emojis to the messages its social media team was sending through WhatsApp had a positive effect on click-through-rates, since emojis made the publisher’s messages seem more informal.

#3: Craft new content strategies
Let’s say you were able to connect with younger readers via Instagram and Snapchat, and you used incentives to bring them back to your publication’s website. How do you go about keeping those new readers engaged? One way is by producing more content in the forms that appeal to younger audiences. For example, through Google Analytics and reader surveys, you might discover that younger readers prefer shorter articles or articles in Q&A format. Or maybe you’re learning that they would rather watch video content. Some publishers are even creating digital games that users can play alongside traditional news articles and op-ed commentaries.

How is your publication reaching out to younger readers? Send us an email and let us know what has—and hasn’t—been working for you.

Digital Publishing Trends 2019

5 Trends to Watch in Digital Publishing

Innovation. Innovation. Innovation. That’s what’s going on in the digital publishing industry right now. As publishers look for new monetization strategies, they are transforming the way readers digest content on both desktop and mobile devices.

With a sharper focus on their digital products, publishers big and small are developing smarter production strategies based on what their readers need and using data to test and innovate in the space.

Here are five of the biggest trends to watch in digital publishing this year.

#1: Publishers Are Experimenting Like Crazy
With nothing left to lose, executives in the digital publishing space are getting creative in the ways they target advertisers and cater to evolving reader demands. At the Minneapolis Star Tribune, editors have started experimenting with using calendar invites to remind readers about important dates related to upcoming elections. The publisher has started sharing important stories via calendar invites, as well. That sort of creative experimentation is necessary if media outlets want to stay ahead of the curve in this environment. Digital-first publications have even more freedom to push the limits of what’s possible, leaning on mobile apps and big data to reach audiences and refine their content selections in more targeted ways.

#2: Newsrooms Are Collaborating More Than Ever Before
In a bid to help bolster local news organizations, and fill the void in “news deserts” around the country, more digital publications are teaming up on projects. These collaborations run the gamut from simply aggregating datasets and sharing the resulting data, to actually working together on in-depth articles through online platforms like Slack and video chat.

One organization that’s trying to keep the momentum going with this trend is Big Local News. As part of the Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative, Big Local News is processing governmental data and then partnering with local newsrooms across the country to use the data in articles about housing, health, and education.

No two collaborations are exactly alike, but the result is almost always an article or content package that’s greater and more significant than what an individual publication could have produced on its own.

#3: Google News As a Bigger Referral Source
It’s been nearly a year since Google announced that it was replacing its Google Play Newsstand and the Google News & Weather apps with an entirely new app, called Google News. Since then, we’ve seen referral traffic dropping from certain social media platforms. (For example, traffic to publisher websites from Twitter has dropped by 18% since January 2017.) Other platforms that are becoming bigger referral sources to digital publishing sites include Instagram and Flipboard. Flipboard, in particular, has seen as dramatic increase in referral traffic in the past year and a half.

#4: Triggers Are Being Used to Convert Subscribers
Prevailing wisdom used to tell us that readers would convert to subscribers when they realized the value of the publications they enjoy. Must-read articles, original photographs, and even access to subscribers-only benefits, like forums, commenting, and live events were all assumed to be the reason why readers decided to subscribe. What we’ve seen in the past few years, however, is that there needs to be a trigger that publishers can release in order to push readers over the edge and make them want to convert. Email newsletters, exit intent popups, and push notifications are three popular triggers that we’re seeing publishers using right now in a bid to convert casual readers into paying subscribers.

#5: Reader Interests Are Informing the Content
It’s a chicken or the egg situation. Do the interests of readers inform the content that digital publications put out, or does the publication make readers care about certain topics through attention-grabbing content packages? Large publishers like the New York Times are asking readers to fill out forms that include details like their political leanings, interests, and occupations in a bid to better understand their audiences. We’re betting that smaller, digital publishing outlets will get in on this trend in the coming year, as well, in a bid to better include readers’ experiences in their local news coverage. Basic reader polls and questionnaires give publishers insights into what kinds of stories their readers might be interested in seeing, and whether any readers would be good sources for stories on particular topics or organizations.

native advertising

The Pros and Cons of Native Advertising

The native advertising industry is booming, and digital publishers are taking notice.

According to the advertising firm AdYouLike, the native ad industry is poised to grow to $400 billion by 2025 — a 372% increase from the expected market size in 2020. With advertisements that blend seamlessly into publishers’ existing editorial flows, native advertising goes beyond display and programmatic.

Native ads can take many forms. On social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, it’s typically seen as posts that look like they’re from the publication, but have actually been paid for by the advertiser. Native advertising can also come in the form of articles about certain topics that are relevant to the advertiser’s niche. For example, a digital publisher might run a series of articles about how to start a home garden, paid for by a local nursery.

Advertisers jump at the chance to partner with publishers on native ad campaigns, and media organizations that have successfully capitalized on the trend are raking in the profits. So what’s the issue?

Native advertising has its detractors, as well, and they have some strong opinions. To sum up the arguments both for and against native ads, we’ve put together this list of pros and cons for publishers.

Pros and Cons of Native Advertising

Pros

Let’s start with the good stuff. Clearly, native advertising is a trend that’s on the rise in digital publishing. Native ads account for more than half of digital display spending by U.S. marketers. According to industry figures, marketers allocated $32.9 billion to native digital display advertising in 2018. Those are big numbers. For publishers on the other side of the equation, native advertising can make up for display advertising rates that have been dropping for years.

Outside of the numbers, native advertising has other benefits. When native ads are done right, they can be a real win/win for publishers and advertisers. Native ads gives businesses the opportunity to generate awareness about their services and their industries.

Over the years, native advertising has produced some really impressive content. Take the campaign that Land Rover launched to promote its vehicles. The automaker’s Dragon Challenge video was eye catching and intriguing, as it showed Land Rover’s attempt to scale the stairs leading to China’s Heaven’s Gate landmark.

Another successful native ad campaign was run by Mercedes in the Washington Post. “The rise of the superhuman” campaign was focused on the technologies turning people into “superhumans.” Slipped in alongside robotic exoskeleton suits and virtual reality in medicine was the Mercedes E-class, which integrates various technologies in its latest model.

Native ads produce the greatest wins when the articles or campaigns are informative, well targeted, and when they are placed on platforms that make sense given the intended audience. Articles that are overly self-promotional create problems for both brands and publishers.

Cons

People rely on their favorite news publications to provide them with fair, accurate, and honest reporting. When publishers post native content alongside editorial content without marking it as such, they breach that trust in a way that makes some readers very uncomfortable.

Sure, there are ways around the issue. Most digital publishers run special headings above native ads or hashtags in the captions of any social media posts. The rub here is that advertisers want their paid articles to resemble editorial content. The more warnings, hashtags, and headlines publishers put around their native advertising, the less of a premium advertisers will pay.

Nonetheless, when readers miss whatever warning signals a publisher puts up, and they read an article in its entirety before realizing it’s been paid for by an advertiser, they tend to feel duped, and that’s no good.

How to Make Native Advertising Work

Where’s the happy medium? How do publishers satisfy the demands coming from both advertisers and readers? The answer starts with creating native content that is as high-quality, informative, and entertaining as possible. Readers are much more accepting of native advertising when it’s done in a way that entertains them or educates them in some way.

The native advertising industry is evolving so quickly that the most effective strategies are changing all the time. If you’d like to chat more about how to implement native advertising at your publication, reach out to one of our specialists.

Fundraising Strategies for Digital Newsrooms

Top Fundraising Strategies for Digital Newsrooms

With more and more publishers switching to nonprofit status, we decided to take a close look at which fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms are most effective.

Around the country, hundreds of thousands of people are donating to their favorite news organizations. Creative publishers are pulling out all the stops to get their readers involved. Although some of the top fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms are straight out of the traditional charitable organization playbook, others are purely news-driven.

But first, a brief history to better understand how we got here.

Between the years 2010 and 2015, more than $1.8 billion in grants were given out in support of journalism. However, just 4.5% of those funds went toward nonprofit local reporting. Then, NewsMatch came into play. NewsMatch shook up the fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms, and gave publishers a new avenue to explore when it came to soliciting funds.

NewsMatch was born in 2017, when the Democracy Fund, the Knight Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation came together. NewsMatch was designed to be a national matching-gift campaign, helping to grow fundraising capacity in nonprofit news organizations and promote giving to journalism among everyday donors.

Since its launch, NewsMatch has supported digital newsrooms in nearly every state. In its first year, NewsMatch worked with 109 newsrooms to raise nearly $5 million for local and investigative journalism. The organization inspired 43,000 new donors to give to nonprofit news.

But NewsMatch alone cannot sustain an industry. In order for nonprofit news organizations to thrive, they’ve got think about how they will continue raising money from donors and outside sources of support.

A number of nonprofit newsrooms have already started down this path. In 2018, individuals donated more than $116 million to journalism organizations. (That’s a 50% increase from 2017.)

We’ve compiled a list of the fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms that were used most successfully by nonprofit publishers last year, along with insights into how your publication can implement the same methods. Here’s what we learned.

Top Fundraising Strategies for Digital Newsrooms

1. Matched Donations
Is there a local group that frequently sponsors your publication? What about a particularly loyal business advertiser? Try asking that group or business to match the funds collected from donors during a specific day or month.

These sorts of fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms can be incredibly successful, since donors are more eager to show their support when they know their donations are being matched. Large businesses benefit from supporting these types of projects, as well, in the form of goodwill and positive consumer sentiment.

2. Employee Giving Programs
More and more companies are running employee giving programs as a way to encourage their employees to give back to charitable organizations. You might be wondering how these programs work and how they can benefit nonprofit local news groups.

In most cases, employees simply select a charity from a list provided by their employers. They make donations directly from their paychecks, and the companies they work for match those donations.

Participating in these types of programs as a nonprofit news organization is as simple as registering with a few third-party platforms. Start by registering with YourCause, Benevity, and Causecast. These are three of the most popular platforms being used right now. If your city has a large company that offers an employee giving program, you should call that company’s HR office to see which platform they use. Once you’ve gotten registered, you can promote the fundraising strategy through email marketing or with in-house display ads on your own website.

3. The Institute for Nonprofit News
NewsMatch raised $7.6 million in 2018. The bulk of that money went to the publishers in 154 newsrooms. How did those publishers get those funds? They simply signed up. The newsrooms benefiting most from NewsMatch’s fundraising efforts are all members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of nonprofit newsrooms around the country. Membership dues are based on what news organizations can afford to pay, with most publishers paying between $50 and $350 per year. In exchange for those dues, members get specialized training in revenue generation, along with fiscal sponsors, business training, and content syndication through NewsTex and NewsBank.

4. Sponsorships
When it comes to the top fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms, no strategy is more popular—or effective—than soliciting sponsors. Sponsorships help to create more stable economics for local publishers, and unlike traditional advertising, they are typically relationship driven. What does that mean? With advertising, you’re selling a product. With sponsorships, you’re selling a relationship.

For example, American City Business Journals has offered page sponsorships on its topic pages. Those page sponsors feel invested in the topics they’re sponsoring. In some cases, sponsors may actually be experts on their topics, with the ability to suggest new story ideas to the publication’s reporters.

The key to successfully selling sponsorships is to first understand what your publication is offering to businesses that decide to become sponsors. How will becoming a sponsor help the business? What can your publication do for that company?

Do you have other fundraising strategies for digital newsrooms that have been successful? We’ve love to hear more about what’s worked for your publications.

Build Trust With Readers

4 Strategies to Build Trust With Readers

What makes people trust a news publication? How can publishers build trust with readers? These are questions that many digital publishers have asked. Now, we’ve got the answers.

Despite all the talk of “fake news,” the truth is that trust in the media is still relatively strong. According to a survey by the Reuters Institute, the average level of trust in the news in general sits at 44% globally. More than half (51%) of consumers say they trust the news media that they consume “most of the time.”

Those numbers aren’t bad, but they could certainly be better.

Trust is also set to become an issue that impacts publishers’ bottom lines, if Facebook and other social media giants begin incorporating brand trust scores into the algorithms that determine which content users see in their news feeds.

Restoring trust among readers won’t happen overnight, but digital publishers can still make it happen using these proven techniques.

Publishing Strategies to Build Trust With Readers

1) Offer supplementary information

Today’s readers don’t just want to know what the facts are. They want to know how those facts were obtained and why they should believe that they are valid. A study from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, found that adding a simple box that explains the story process can go a long way for publishers looking to build trust with readers. Examples of details that can be included in a supplementary information box include topics like, “How we reported this story,” “Why we’re publishing this article,” and “How we took steps to be fair.”
In surveys, readers said that articles that ran alongside boxes with supplementary information were more fair, accurate, informative, transparent, and credible. Those are pretty incredible attributes for any news publisher, but particularly for a digital publisher at a small-but-growing publication.

2) Get readers involved

Readers can’t complain about the fairness of coverage when they themselves took part in creating it. While it’s unlikely that everyday readers will be able to contribute full-length articles on a regular basis, publishers can still build trust with readers by highlighting the best comments and contributions alongside articles that run online.

Don’t assume that readers know that they’re invited to contribute, either. Banner ads and periodic reminders in email newsletters can be used to solicit reader contributions. Forms placed prominently on the homepage are also a worthwhile addition. Just make sure those forms include an attachment feature, so readers can attach documentation or supporting evidence for any news items they’re submitting.

3) Focus on the local angle

When the Knight Foundation hosted its regular gathering of funders and journalism insiders in Miami last month, there was a lot of talk about sustainability in local news and rebuilding trust in the media. One of the key points made by presenters was that local news is the ideal place for the news media to start rebuilding the trust that’s been broken in the “fake news” era, and more directly, that the closer publishers can connect neighbors and news, the stronger their communities become. It’s a powerful message, and one that digital publishers should keep at the forefront of their minds as they continue planning their strategies for long-term growth.

Readers trust what they can see, and they can see the community that’s right outside their windows. Therefore, publishers who really want to build trust with readers should start by covering the topics that their readers care about in their own communities. Establish that basic foundation of trust before expanding into broader topics that might be harder for local readers to grasp.

4) Take the opportunity to explain

Editors serve a number of roles at digital news publications, but one of those roles needs to be “Explainer-in-Chief.” Take a moment as the editor of your publication to write the occasional column about how controversial stories came to be or how reporters at the publication do their jobs on a daily basis. You’d be surprised at how few people understand the inner workings of a news publication.

Educating readers about why certain decisions were made and the challenges of running a small digital publication—and at the very least, explaining that reporters don’t write the headlines—will go a long way in building trust.

What other strategies have you seen publishers implement as they work to build trust among readers?

Apple News Publishers

Could Apple News Be the Answer to Publishing Woes? Think Again.

Remember when Apple News first launched, and publishers were giddy with optimism? Apple News was supposed to be the answer to capturing engaged audiences and driving ad revenue for local news publishers.

In a February 2018 survey, almost 30% of respondents said publishers should prioritize Apple News in the new year. But today, just one year later, much of that optimism has faded.

With 90 million regular users, and nearly 70 million monthly unique users, Apple News can be viewed as a success in a lot of ways. Although some publishers say referral traffic from the news aggregation app has fallen flat, others are seeing positive growth. Being featured in the Top News widget in Apple News can be a boom for a digital publisher, driving significant traffic volume.

Apple News’s content recirculation widget is also a hit among publishers. The widget recommends stories to users and serves as an excellent referral source for publishers. For some media outlets, Apple News has become a more important source of traffic than Facebook or Twitter, particularly since Facebook’s algorithm change.

So what’s the problem?

Despite some positives, publishers right now have a decidedly negative outlook on Apple News. Many of the complaints stem back to four main issues:

  1. Trouble selling Apple News inventory directly
  2. Limited user targeting
  3. Slow to let in outside measurement companies
  4. sIncompatibility with publishers’ current sales strategies

Although publishers on Apple News have been able to sell their own inventory, doing so is rare and it isn’t necessarily easy. Publishers have inventory on their own websites to sell, first and foremost, along with all of the social media platforms they distribute on. Add that to the complaints listed above, and publishers have started to view Apple News as a burden more than a blessing.

The age of Apple News’ audience has also become an issue. Digital publishers are always looking for new ways to capture younger audiences—the types of audiences that advertisers love—but Apple News’ audience tends to skew older.

When you combine dismal ad fill rates with limited user targeting, that restricts publishers from using third-party data or IP addresses, you make it harder for publishers to sell ads.

Most inventory in Apple News these days is sold by NBCUniversal, bringing in a CPM of $3 to $4. That’s a reasonable rate for remnant inventory, but it’s not the basis for a sustainable publishing business. It also happens to be lower than what publishers can get through Facebook Instant Articles or Google’s AMP format.

Rather than relying on Apple News exclusively, we’re seeing more digital publishers use Apple News as a value-add for their biggest advertising campaigns. Certain advertisers are eager to capture in-app audiences, and these advertisers will jump at the opportunity.

Another way that publishers are making the best out of the situation is by using Apple News to push their subscriptions and membership programs.

With subscription programs on the rise among consumers, publishers are finding that they can distribute content through Apple News and push new readers who arrive at their websites to subscribe for more content. Readers who arrive through Apple News can subscribe with the tap of a finger, using preloaded credit cards already stored in their iPhones, which eliminates many of the barriers or obstacles that decrease conversions among digital news subscribers.

Revenue from subscription sales driven by Apple News referrals can’t rival what large publishers were initially hoping to generate through ad inventory, particularly once the company’s 30% cut of subscriptions it helps sell is taken into account, but it’s a step in the right direction and it’s better than nothing.

What about value that’s not tied to revenue? Some publishers are using Apple News to drive views and downloads of add-on services and products, like podcasts and videos on-demand. Publishers are also working on ways to convert readers from Apple’s news aggregator into email newsletter subscribers.

What has your experience with Apple News been like? Have you found a way to generate value from the platform? If you’ve got ideas for how to monetize Apple’s news aggregator, we’d love to hear them.

mobile streaming video

Mobile Streaming Video – Insights for Publishers

Digital publishers are embracing mobile streaming video, as they work to develop the types of experiences that drive engagement and conversions.

Audiences are increasingly coming to expect mobile streaming video from news publishers. Mobile streaming video is growing around the world as more viewers demand newer ways to watch content from their smartphones and tablet devices. We expect that streaming video will become the dominant mode of video content within the next three to five years.

What Is Mobile Streaming Video?

Streaming video refers to content that is compressed and displayed to viewers in real-time. Viewers do not have to download the video in order to view it. Whereas most digital video content is recorded, edited, and then distributed via platforms like YouTube or Facebook, streaming video is recorded, streamed, and viewed in a live format. When streaming video is viewed on a smartphone or tablet device, it’s considered mobile streaming video.

Facebook’s entrance into the mobile streaming video market changed the game for digital media, but publishers don’t have to work with the social media giant in order to stream live video on their websites. A number of other companies offer streaming media technology, including MainStreamingOnstream Media, and Graybo.

Why Do Viewers Want Mobile Streaming Video?

Who wants to watch content on a delay? With mobile streaming video, viewers can see what’s going on right away, in real-time, while they’re on-the-go.

According to the 2018 Penthera International Streaming Behavior Survey, demand for mobile streaming video is growing throughout the world, with 84% of 18 to 29 year olds streaming content on a weekly basis.

Despite their excitement over the medium, viewers report significant obstacles, as well. Nearly all (88%) viewers report having experienced frustration while streaming video. This typically comes from having weak or non-existent connectivity, but it can also have to do with the technology that publishers use to stream their video content.

Why Are Publishers Using Mobile Streaming Video?

Mobile streaming video has caught on among news publishers for a number of reasons. Consumer demand is certainly one of the reasons why publishers have been pushed into streaming video content. Audiences want the ability to see what’s going on in real-time, and publishers are obliged to meet those demands.

Satisfying the consumer appetite for mobile streaming video is helping publishers generate high levels of engagement, which leads to greater revenue.

Another reason why mobile streaming video has caught on is because it’s easy for publishers to generate. With mobile streaming video, publishers don’t have to worry about professional video editing. They can simply broadcast live events as they are ongoing, eliminating one of the barriers that has traditionally made video content challenging for smaller media outlets.

Mobile streaming video also gives publishers a way to connect with younger audiences—a coveted demographic among brand advertisers. Younger audiences are much more likely to stream content on a daily basis, and they’re also the group most likely to be able to navigate the technology challenges that can arise with that.

The Latest Mobile Streaming Video Trends

Now that we understand what streaming video is, and why viewers enjoy it, let’s talk about how publishers can take advantage of this technology.

Streaming video seems to be most effective when the content is aimed at a younger audience. These audiences prefer content that is live, compelling, and original. Reruns won’t work with this crowd. Instead, think about ways to capture soft, fun events that are likely to go viral.

Streaming video can also be useful during breaking news events. Rather than taking the time to record and edit coverage of a live event, publishers can setup a streaming video feed and let viewers see what’s happening in real-time. In a survey by The Guardian, 98% of users said they want live video for breaking news events.

Publishers who host their own live events can also stream those events. For example, a niche publisher hosting a conference can live stream the keynote speaker. Subscribers who couldn’t make it to the conference in person can still watch from home, giving people another reason to subscribe to the publication.

If you’d like to learn more about setting up mobile streaming video on your website, reach out to our team here at Web Publisher PRO.

Premium Features

Offer More Premium Features in 2019

What sort of premium features would entice you to pay for an online publication?

It’s a question digital publishers are grappling with, and one that they must find an answer to in 2019 if they wish to survive—and thrive—in the competitive media landscape.

The business model for digital journalism is changing, with more and more publications adopting a paid model. According to the American Press Institute, 78% of newspapers with circulations of at least 50,000 have “some form of paid model,” the most common of which is a metered model. With the metered model, readers can access a certain number of articles for free (usually five or 10 per month), after which they must subscribe for full access.

Even publications that are not for-profit are trying out this model. A number of non-profit news publishers have started membership programs, where readers join for access to content. Funding from memberships makes up the bulk of these publishers’ budgets, as they do not have programmatic advertising or display advertising revenue to fall back on.

Non-profit and for-profit publishers must make sure their membership and subscription programs are on point if they expect to drive enough volume to succeed. Research has found that the most engaged 5% to 10% of a publisher’s audience will convert into paying subscribers. For these readers, being cut off from access after five or 10 articles each month is enough to spur action and drive conversions. For many others, however, there needs to be something more.

In 2019, we expect to see a greater number of digital publishers offering premium features as part of their membership and subscription programs.

What Types of Premium Features Do Readers Want?

The No. 1 thing engaged news consumers want is original content. That’s right. Readers don’t need all the bells and whistles, videos, or social media campaigns. They want premium, original reporting. This reporting should inform, educate, benefit, and entertain the readers of a publication. When those marks are all being hit, publishers can expect to see a high level of subscription or membership renewals.

Of course, all content is not created equal. While most digital news websites traffic in written content, there is a great demand among readers for video content, as well. Video on-demand is one of the most requested premium features among online news readers. Some publishers are beginning to meet this demand by launching their own branded video on-demand services or exclusive video channels that are available only to paid subscribers.

One publisher that has found particular success using premium features to encourage readers to become paying members is Slate. Slate Magazine’s Slate Plus membership costs $35 for the first year, and comes with premium features like ad-free versions of the publisher’s podcasts, extended versions of the publisher’s podcasts, access to a library of Slate Academies, early access and ticket discounts to Slate events, and access to a private Facebook group where fellow Slate fans can talk about the publication and the news of the day.

One thing you might notice is that most of Slate’s premium features are free for the publisher. For example, creating a private Facebook group for members of Slate Plus is free, and so is offering ad-free versions of the publisher’s existing podcasts. Bonus content, like extended interviews or behind-the-scenes clips from videos, provide extra value for readers without costing the publication much financially, as well.

This is a valuable lesson for publishers. Premium features don’t have to cost a fortune to be valuable to members. Most of Slate Plus’ premium features are designed to save members time or to enrich their lives in some way. For example, getting through podcasts without ads saves listeners time, and having access to a library of Slate Academies is enriching for readers.

Slate got some help determining which premium features to offer members of its Slate Plus program. The company surveyed its members to find out what they wanted and what sort of categories of content they would be most willing to support.

Publishers who take the time to survey their readers in this same way can be sure that the premium features they are offering are actually valuable, upping the chances of success with their new membership programs.

Have you thought about offering premium features to your site’s members? We’d love to hear more about which features and benefits are driving conversions for your publication.

Data Journalism

The Latest Trends in Data Journalism — What Digital Publishers Should Know

When launching a new data journalism project, consider these trends and the strategies news reporters and editors are using to expand the way they cover events and publish content on the web.

Data journalism has taken a number of steps forward in the past decade, but 2019 is set to be the year that innovation and collaboration between digital news outlets really takes hold.

We’re less than two months in to 2019, and already a number of news publishers have announced new data journalism initiatives. For example, the Associated Press announced in January that it is using data journalism to help bolster local news outlets. Using funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the AP is growing its data team and increasing data distribution to local newsrooms.

The AP’s use of data journalism inside local newsrooms is just one point in some larger trends we’re seeing throughout the industry. Here’s a peak at what’s really going on.

Data Journalism Trends in 2019

Publishers are turning to automation to facilitate large-scale projects.
Manual research can be too time consuming for an individual reporter, or even a team of reporters, depending on the project. With automation, news reporters can query individuals and conduct high-level research without dealing with the most mundane elements of the project.

For example, Bayerischer Rundfunk and SPIEGEL, in Germany, put ample resources into a story about discrimination in the German rental market. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to interview thousands of rental tenants about their experiences, so reporters turned to automation. Journalists sent 20,000 applications to roughly 7,000 apartment advertisements and then analyzed their responses.

Artificial intelligence is making work easier for reporters.
In the past, data journalism has been thought of as a complicated endeavor that requires extensive time, knowledge, and skill on the part of reporters and editors. In 2019, artificial intelligence (AI) will finally reach the point where its use in newsrooms is seamless.

While AI technology used to generate news stories has been available for some time—the Washington Post’s Arc project and Quartz AI Studio both come to mind—data journalism platforms are being designed in a way that makes the technology easy enough for everyone in the newsroom to use. Machine-generated stories will finally free up reporters’ time. Achievable AI projects will take precedence, as reporters use AI to manage story tips, track incoming data sources, and keep published stories up-to-date on the web.

Publishers are developing their own data journalism tools.
Frustrated by the limitations in what’s currently on the market, large media organizations are spending more on the development of their own data journalism tools. Although some of these tools are for internal use, a growing number of publishers are opening up access to other media organizations, as well. For example, the AP has seen 1,400 downloads from 300 local newsrooms on its data.world platform, which catalogs data and serves as a type of social networking website for data teams. Another example is the RADAR (Reporters And Data And Robots) project, which came out of a collaboration between the UK Press Association and the London-based startup Urbs Media.

You can read about some of the other data journalism tools publishers are using in this guide.

More digital publishers are collaborating.
Data journalism projects can be expensive, given the resources involved in these types of large-scale initiatives. One way that digital publishers are managing these costs is by partnering with other publishers. The nature of these collaborations can vary. In some cases, publishers are simply sharing the financial costs. In other situations, publishers might be dedicating a certain number of reporters or editors to the collaborative project. These reporters and editors are working cohesively in an online environment to put together the puzzle pieces involved and create a final product that both publications can be proud of.

Data skills will become a non-negotiable for digital reporters.
Can you imagine a reporter who couldn’t email or use a telephone? Basic data skills are on their way to becoming non-negotiable for reporters and editors in the digital publishing industry. As this happens, the field of data journalism will morph into simply journalism, as data-driven stories becomes a part of every newsroom and data visualizations are published alongside nearly all stories to bring information to life.

Interested in learning how other digital publishers are planning to use data in 2019? We’ve got the information, and we’d love to chat.

Email Newsletter Engagement

5 Ways to Improve Email Newsletter Engagement

What makes a successful email newsletter? That’s the million-dollar question that digital publishers are working hard to figure out. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the underlying principles behind improving email newsletter engagement.

First things first, let’s talk about why email newsletter engagement is so important. Email marketing has become a central component of the digital publisher’s monetization strategy. In addition to selling advertising within their email newsletters, publishers also rely on email newsletter engagement in order to promote stories and other profit-making initiatives.

But having a newsletter that’s sent out at periodic intervals is no longer enough for guaranteed success. With so much competition in the news and media marketplace, publishers have to make sure that their newsletters are designed in a way that promotes email newsletter engagement.

The definition of online engagement can vary, but for the purposes of this article, let’s assume that engagement means converting prospects to readers, or converting casual readers into loyal subscribers. Some publishers measure engagement in “likes” or shares, while other measure engagement based on how many times readers click on the links in their email newsletters.

Engaged readers are more likely to become paying subscribers and tell their friends about the stories they’ve read. That’s why promoting engagement among newsletter subscribers is so important.

With that in mind, here are five of the best tactics for improving email newsletter engagement.

  1. Use a distinctive voice. There was a time when publishers thought an email newsletter should just be a collection of links to stories from the previous day or week. Not anymore. With so much competition, publishers are pulling out all the stops to make their email newsletters pop. Using a distinctive voice—ideally, with the same tone as the publication itself—gives newsletters a personality and makes people want to open each email to see what the new edition might bring.
  2. Create an incentive for engaging. Incentives work, plain and simple. People want to feel like they are being rewarded for their efforts, even if those efforts are as simple as opening an email newsletter. One of the simplest ways to incentivize readers to subscribe and read your weekly newsletters is to include an exclusive coupon in each newsletter. As your email newsletter engagement improves, advertisers will jump on the opportunity to have their own coupons included. Just make sure that the coupons you’re publishing are exclusive to the newsletter, since that’s what’s going to be in the incentive here for people to open up your email newsletters each week.
  3. Invite contributions. Readers can be a valuable source of information. Shift the paradigm and get readers more involved in the news production process by inviting them to contribute to your newsletter. Reader contributions could come in the form of guest posts, photo submissions, or even just news tips. Another option is to publish the best website comment of the week in the email newsletter. This strategy encourages readers to read news stories to the end, comment on their favorites, and then open each newsletter to see if their comments were included.
  4. Make targeted editions. Email newsletters that are focused on a certain topic have high open rates and click-through rates. With that in mind, we recommend that publishers segment their subscriber lists and send email newsletters focused on specific topics. Buzzfeed has been a pioneer in this strategy. The media company sends out separate newsletters for almost every vertical under its umbrella, including food, health, and lifestyle content. Some readers may sign up for all of the newsletter editions, others may sign up for just one. In any case, email newsletter engagement is sure to be higher because subscribers have indicated a clear interest in the topic.
  5. Optimize the send time. What influence does the time of day, or day of the week, an email is sent have on open rates and click-through rates? We recommend that you start testing today to find the answer to that question. Email marketing automation platforms like MailChimp, and many others, have developed send time optimization features that test what time of day readers are most likely to engage with email content. Try out a few of these tools until you’re confident that your email newsletters are being sent out at the ideal time for peak engagement.

Interested in learning even more strategies for improving email newsletter engagement? Check in with one of our experts to learn which small tweaks could lead to major improvements for your own publication.