FIPP, the network for global media, recently released its 2019 Global Digital Snapshot. This report gives us an inside look at worldwide trends in digital publishing.
Unsurprisingly, we’re continuing to see a shift towards paywalls and subscriptions. We at the Sterling Woods Group have been talking for years about why it’s the way forward for publishers. It seems that some of the giants like Conde Nast have finally caught on; they recently moved all of their titles behind paywalls.
While the FIPP report focuses on publishing, the implications about data and subscription models are broader than that. Today, we take a look at the trends highlighted in the report, and what it means for those in the publishing industry and beyond.
Fans Are Willing to Pay for a Quality Product
The adoption of paywalls across newspapers and magazines shows that publishers are confident readers will pay for high-quality content. This has been especially evident in niche publishing arenas, particularly in the world of sports.
As a resident of Boston, I know how passionate sports fans can be. They would do anything for their favorite team—they embody the definition of a whale. Sports publications have leaned into that, and publications like The Athletic have found great success by providing in-depth coverage of various teams on the local level.
This is why it’s important to find your niche and lean into it, no matter what industry you’re in. When you’re specific about what you do, and you offer the best version of it that’s out there on the market, you’re more likely to generate interest in your products or services.
Use Data to Convert Whales
Publishers have begun embracing dynamic paywall models. These paywalls rely on data to evaluate each visitor to a website—how likely are they to become a customer?
Depending on the answer to that question, the visitor is able to access more or less free content before the paywall pops up. These dynamic paywalls are designed to give each prospect the type of experience they need to convert. For some, that’s 10 free articles; for others, it’s no free content at all.
The data at the root of these dynamic paywalls comes from a rich understanding of whales. A detailed profile of a publisher’s best customers allows them to develop a composite sketch of their ideal customer. They can then use this data to drive the results they want.
Dynamic paywalls are all about measuring and experimenting. Publishers can collect data on who’s converting and who isn’t, and then make changes to their dynamic paywall approach to get the best results.
Again, these are lessons that businesses in any industry can learn from. A deep understanding of your best customers allows you to create an effective product pyramid—one that gives you the best shot at moving customers from basic offerings to bigger products and services.
And the importance of measuring and experimenting is universal. You should always be looking at customer data to tweak your pyramid and offer products that are increasingly relevant and appealing to your whales.
Down with Social Media, Long Live the Newsletter!
Publishers are souring on Facebook. Changes in their algorithm have stifled referral traffic. Additionally, bad press around fake news has made publishers anxious about doing business with the social network.
Instead, we’re seeing publishers shift towards newsletters. Even giants like the Washington Post are doing it. They produce upwards of 70 different newsletters each week, which are all tailored to specific interests of readers.
Here, we’re seeing publishers take ownership of first-party data. No matter what industry you’re in, you’re better off connecting directly with fans.
This connection gives you the ability to define the terms of your relationship with your customers (and thereby generate more revenue). Plus, you can access all of the incredible data on your fans. When you collect this data directly, you can make smarter choices in the future as you create new products and offerings.
The overall theme we’re seeing in this report is that publishers are taking ownership of and showing full confidence in their data and offerings. By establishing paid subscriptions that give them complete control over how customers interact with their brand, publishers are able to get the greatest results for all their hard work.
The same principles apply in any industry. Whether you’re a publisher setting up a subscription or a business in another industry establishing a membership program, you’ll find yourself able to speak directly with your biggest fans and to collect data that allows you to present them with even more products, services, or content that they’ll love.
About the Sterling Woods Group, LLC
The Sterling Woods Group’s mission is to help clients make sense of their data to build deeper relationships with their best customers, launch new products and membership programs, and execute smarter marketing strategies.
We use a hypothesis-driven, data supported methodology to discover your “spin”—a simple insight that no one else is paying attention to. Then, we help you assemble the right technologies, marketing plans, and resources to seize this opportunity.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Throughout his career, his focus has been on embracing technology and analytics to spur strategic development and growth.
At the Sterling Woods Group, he and the team are passionate about helping clients understand their best customers through data, and developing products and membership programs that exceed expectations – and generate impressive revenues.
Committed to spreading this message, Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.
He holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.