As publishers look to squeeze every bit of revenue from their online properties, there’s been a renewed interest in e-commerce strategies for local news sites.
The vast majority of publishers already have digital advertising and subscription sales programs solidly in place, but e-commerce still represents an untapped revenue stream with seemingly limitless potential for publishers interested in diversification.
According to a survey by Digiday, less than half of publishers today generate revenue through e-commerce. Of those publishers who do utilize e-commerce strategies for local news sites, just over half say at least 75% of their commerce revenue comes from affiliate sales. Forty-percent of publishers have online stores, and 17% sell products on Amazon.
When it comes to e-commerce, the ability to create a product or distribute it isn’t nearly as important as the ability to promote it. Local publishers already have built in audiences. Publishers can ask their readers what types of products they’d be interested in seeing, and paying for, and they can promote their branded merchandise in email newsletters or through social media posts.
Although e-commerce makes up a small portion of most publishers’ revenue—only 4% of publishers who reported e-commerce revenues in Digiday’s survey said they generate more than 50% of their revenue through that channel—it’s still an attractive strategy thanks to the minimal upfront investment.
What Should Local Publishers Sell?
The rise of print-on-demand platforms means publishers can put their logos on just about any type of merchandise. The New York Times sells branded hats, t-shirts, umbrellas—you name it. So does The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and a number of other respected news publications.
Niche publishers also have an opportunity to sell products related to the areas they cover. For example, the Harvard Business Revenue has an online store where readers can purchase entrepreneurship books, business magazines, and business toolkits. The Harvard Business Revenue has also been able to monetize its own products, such as articles and case studies.
One of the most obvious e-commerce strategies for local news sites is to sell city-specific goods or products made locally. Those types of goods might include city maps, books written by local authors, or mugs printed with a town’s logo.
Local publishers can also setup e-commerce stores that sell digital goods, like audio walking tours recorded by the publication’s editors, or e-books made up of previously published content. E-commerce stores that sell digital goods can be setup to require minimal day-to-day management, since there aren’t any physical products to be shipped or payments to be manually collected.
Let’s go into more detail about some of the most popular e-commerce strategies for local news sites.
- Online Stores
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Chicago Tribune are just three of the hundreds of daily newspapers with online e-commerce stores. Of those, The Chicago Tribune’s store most closely resembles a local news website’s.The Tribune’s online store is full of product ideas that would fit well in a hyperlocal publisher’s store, including books about Chicago sports, culture, and events, as well as branded merchandise and a “free speech collection” of apparel.
- Selling on Amazon
It isn’t hard to start selling on Amazon, and yet just 17% of local publishers currently sell through the e-commerce platform. Selling on Amazon is ideal for publishers who don’t have the bandwidth to build and manage their own online stores, but still want to take advantage of e-commerce as an ancillary revenue stream.Print-on-demand services, like Merch by Amazon, offer a way for publishers to sell branded t-shirts without managing inventory or dealing with shipments. Publishers simply upload their logos, choose which products they should be printed on—for example, t-shirts and mugs—and set their prices. Amazon handles the rest, automatically printing products as they are ordered and shipping them out to customers.Another on-demand e-commerce fulfillment platform is Zazzle. Zazzle has partnered with Atlantic Media to produce and sell branded merchandise for the multi-platform publishing company, with products that run the gamut from keychains to grocery totes.
- Affiliate Sales
Even local publishers with no interest in creating or selling products can generate revenue through e-commerce. Affiliate links are one of the least burdensome e-commerce strategies for local news sites, allowing publishers to earn small sums of money each time readers purchase products through their links.One of the easiest places to begin inserting affiliate links is in book or music reviews. When readers click on those links and purchase a book or album, the publisher earns a small percentage of the sale. As one of the largest online retailers with an affiliate program, Amazon pays commissions that range from 3% to 8% depending on the product category.
- Native Commerce Content
Loosely related to affiliate revenue, native commerce content is one of the e-commerce strategies for local news sites that bypasses ad blockers and sits in a publisher’s content management system. Platforms like StackCommerce offer a way for publishers to organically integrate products into native content that directs readers to branded online shops.When it’s done right, the native commerce content strategy drives engagement without requiring the same type of hands-on approach that typically comes with running an online store.