How Digital Publishers Can Make Money from E-Commerce

How Digital Publishers Can Make Money from E-Commerce

Wondering how digital publishers can make money from e-commerce? Keep reading to find out.

E-commerce has become the fastest growing segment of consumer spending, making up more than 10% of total retail sales worldwide. Global retailers like Amazon and Walmart are bringing in the bulk of those sales, but digital publishers are finding that they have a competitive advantage that gives them a high chance of success when it comes to selling products and services online. This realization is creating a new demand among digital publishers to enter the world of e-commerce, selling not just branded merchandise and tchotchkes, but also physical goods and services related to the industries and people they cover.

In a recent report, The E-Commerce in Digital Media Report, Business Insider Intelligence looked at how digital media organizations are taking advantage of e-commerce and found that the three most popular strategies are affiliate links, social commerce, and video commerce. Business Insider Intelligence found that affiliate programs, in particular, are lucrative for digital publishers with large audiences. By the year 2022, affiliate marketing is expected to generate a whopping $8.2 billion in revenue in the U.S. alone.

Why Are Publishers Moving to E-Commerce?

With subscription and membership programs beginning to stall, and digital advertising rates dropping gradually over time, digital publishers are in search of new revenue streams. E-commerce has become a viable option, not just because it’s lucrative, but also because it is sustainable and because digital publishers are coming into this field with a competitive advantage.

One of the hardest parts of starting a traditional e-commerce business is setting up and launching a website. For digital publishers, this step is already done. With robust websites already live and operational, most digital publishers don’t have to worry about creating a website before they can start selling products and services online. Digital publishers don’t have to worry about getting eyeballs on their sites, either. With SEO strategies already firmly in place, digital publishers have the built-in audience that’s necessary to generate traction in the world of online commerce. That’s two major advantages right out of the starting gates.

E-commerce represents an opportunity for digital publishers to generate revenue in a way that incurs very few upfront costs. The real question is, why isn’t every digital publisher adopting this strategy?

How Digital Publishers Can Make Money from E-Commerce

Now that we understand what e-commerce is, and why digital publishers are particularly well positioned to take advantage of this trend in retail sales, let’s dig into the fun stuff — how digital publishers can make money from e-commerce.

Digital publishers can make money from e-commerce in three main ways — affiliate links, social commerce, and video commerce.

Affiliate marketing is common among online publishers. Simply put, the strategy involves embedding retail product links in stories and other website content. When visitors click on those links, they’re taken to the item on another retailer’s website, and the publisher gets a small commission with every sale that’s made. Affiliate links are one of the easiest and safest ways for digital publishers to dip their toes into e-commerce, since there is zero cost and publishers themselves aren’t handling any of the messy work that goes along with running a retail website.

Next up is social commerce. Social commerce uses social media to encourage online transactions. For example, a fashion publisher might post images of a new handbag on Instagram and Facebook, with links to buy the bag online. Social commerce takes advantage of the built-in social networks that digital publishers have created and grown organically.

Finally, we have video commerce. Video commerce is the latest entrant here, but it is growing to become a real force in the online retail space. Video commerce has moved beyond YouTube. Both Amazon and Walmart have added shoppable video content on Prime Video and Vudu, as well. Digital publishers can make money from e-commerce by using video to demonstrate how certain products work to their visitors, and then selling those products through links in the captions or embedded into the videos themselves.

Once again, digital publishers have a competitive advantage when it comes to video commerce because they already have the built-in SEO, they already have the trust of their audience, and in many cases, they already have the means for producing high-quality video content on a regular basis.

What do you think about publishers entering the world of e-commerce sales?

e-commerce strategies for local news sites

E-Commerce Strategies for Local News Sites

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.