Highlights from Mather’s 2018 Reader Revenue Symposium


Leading European and American Publishers Share Reader Revenue Insights at Symposium in Amsterdam

Mather Economics was pleased to organize and sponsor the Reader Revenue Symposium held in Amsterdam during INMA’s Innovation Week. We would like to thank the speakers for sharing their strategies for growing reader revenue across print and digital products. Also, we would like to thank the team at INMA for their collaboration in hosting this event and to Robert Whitehead for serving as an excellent master of ceremonies throughout the day. Lastly, thank you to De Persgroep for hosting us at their headquarters in Amsterdam.

Presentations from the Reader Revenue Symposium can be found here.

Reader Revenue, Product Value Proposition, Content Economics, and Engagement
There were several common themes at the symposium, including subscription and digital revenues growing as a share of total revenue, digital product value proposition development, content economics, and customer engagement.

The shift towards reader revenue, both digital and print, was mentioned by a number of speakers as they described their future business strategies. Tor Jacobsen of Schibsted shared their goal is to reach one billion NOK of pure digital revenue by 2020 with a majority of that coming from readers. David Gurian-Peck and Janis Huang of The New York Times noted that subscriber revenue from all products is now 60% of total revenue.

Reader revenue is growing through acquisition offer pricing strategies and retention initiatives to maintain the customer relationship once they are a customer. Annick Deseure of Mediahuis in Belgium acknowledged they have had success with long-term offers where customers commit to a multi-year term, often three years, in return for a consistent price level. Xavier van Leeuwe of De Telegraaf in The Netherlands has implemented long-term offers at this paper too after the success with this strategy at NRC. Xavier emphasized that this strategy is effective at all types of publications.

Communicating the value proposition of the products is vital to a successful reader revenue strategy as described by a number of speakers. Astrid Jørgensen of Politiken in Copenhagen shared how they supported a 400% price increase on their digital subscriptions with an effective campaign to communicate the value of the product, particularly to their younger readers. They acknowledge that their product is expensive, but they emphasize the price is indicative of the product’s quality.

Mikael Nestius of Bonnier presented their strategy of sending a condensed newsletter of their content to subscribers who have reacted well to the service. Sharing the content in this format builds engagement with readers who otherwise may have missed articles of interest to them.

Christian Röpke of Zeit Online shared that bundling print and digital access is very promising as a strategy for growing readership and digital engagement. They are testing online-only content to drive subscribers towards that platform, and they have focused heavily on their millennial audience with product positioning and marketing.

Content economics and analysis was a common thread during the symposium with some interesting insights shared by Patrick Tournabene and Peter Long of Newsday. They have created a tool to compare an article to a comparative set of prior articles with similar topics and formats. The tool can suggest ways to increase article engagement with the audience, such as including data-supported arguments, leading the story with key words, or telling the story from a narrative perspective.

Janis Huang and David Gurian-Peck of The New York Times discussed how some content categories are being developed into stand-alone digital apps, which present the opportunity to sell these new products in bundles with the primary Times product or separately.

Laurie Truitt and Josh Awtry of Gannett described an analysis of their content that found that the least-read half of their content only produced 12% of their page views. They have reallocated newsroom resources to produce more of the content that readers are consuming, and the results are growing readership with fewer unique content items. They stressed that it is important for everyone in the organization to know the agreed-upon objectives for cohesive product execution, and they shared a case study from the Milwaukee Sentinel that demonstrated the success of focusing the organization on the product strategy.

Analytics that produce results
Data-driven business operations continue to expand with publishers, and case studies of how to monetize insights from analytics were presented. Tor Jacobsen of Schibsted discussed how they focus on delivering the right message to a customer at the right time to grow engagement and reduce churn. Christian Röpke of Zeit Online discussed their in-house propensity modeling to identify the readers most likely to accept subscription offers. Annick Deseure of Mediahuis noted their improvements in conversion rates through testing bundling free weekend print with digital subscriptions.

An interesting application of analytics to call center operations was presented by Patrick Tornabene and Peter Long of Newsday. They found that routing calls to the best performing call center representatives improved call performance metrics and financial results significantly. They also found that improving CSR satisfaction yielded improved performance, so investments in employee training and retention provided positive financial returns. Patrick also shared an innovative strategy of offering opt-in premium products at no cost to subscribers. They found that customers that opted-in to receive these products had higher retention than statistically comparable, look-alike, customers that did not opt-in. The increase in retention was large enough to make these “free” products profitable for Newsday.

Finally, a compelling discussion of product quality was delivered by Frederic Filloux of the Monday Note blog and a recent Senior Research Fellow at Stanford University. He has developed a machine-learning approach for scoring article quality, a score not intended for sharing with readers but with editors and other applications that are making content recommendations. He noted that journalism lacks measures of product quality that exist in many industries, and he has founded a company, Deepnews.ai, to further develop this capability and bring it to market.

The day’s session was concluded with an interactive audience survey of pricing and product preferences for The Daily Prophet, a hypothetical newspaper for the “magic community” featured in the Harry Potter stories. Magnus Gabrielsen of Copenhagen Conjoint and Dustin Tetley of Mather Economics demonstrated how a short conjoint survey completed earlier in the day by audience members yielded the optimal offer price for three levels of print and digital service. The optimal price was developed by combining the audience’s price elasticity for new subscription offers with their predicted lifetime value at different price points. The approach was also able to identify the incremental price readers would pay for ad-free digital access. (Note: this was a demonstration of the approach and not a comprehensive analysis.)

This synopsis is a very brief summary of the many excellent and insightful presentations delivered by the speakers, and there are many recommendations included in the presentations at the link shared earlier that could make substantial improvements to publisher’s reader revenue. I wish we had the space to include them all here.

Mather Economics is very grateful for the opportunity to work with most of the companies included in this event on their reader revenue. We are often asked who in the industry is using innovative strategies to grow their businesses, and this Symposium, our fifth, is how we bring together leaders in the industry to share good ideas and best practices. Thank you again to the leading European and American publishers who shared their strategies and results and to the engaged audience that participated in the event. We are planning our next symposium now, and we will share the details of that event in the near future.


To see all photos of the event, click here.

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