Back in 2013, Business Insider started its fledgling research unit, BI Intelligence, as a way to get direct revenue from readers. Over three years later, BI has grown its research group to 40 people, with 7,500 subscribers for $2,500 memberships, and it’s adding its own proprietary research panel, BI Insiders, a 15,000-person research panel, to the mix.
BI will query that panel about everything from the Amazon Echo Look to mobile payments, and BI will use it to expand research efforts into more areas. It’s also why BI is hiking the cost of the subscription from $2,500 to $3,000. (Institutional, enterprise-level accounts cost quite a bit more, up to $150,000.)
“They are the early indicator if a new tech will take off or a new behavior will be adopted,” said Andrew Sollinger, the vice president in charge of subscriptions at Business Insider, of the BI Insiders panel.
While Sollinger and the rest of the team are eager to point out their panel contains early-adopting, affluent millennials, it’s a varied bunch: 61 percent of them are Gen Xers and 4 percent are baby boomers, with the rest being that all-important demographic.
To gather these panelists, who, Sollinger said, are unpaid, BI started by trawling through the most engaged segment of its reader base back in the third quarter of 2016. People who were reading more than five BI stories per month were sent a notification asking if they’d like to participate in the Insiders program. Those that completed the survey and met the necessary income, age and technology interest requirements were pooled into segments. Its members are polled twice per month, though the frequency sometimes increases if something especially newsworthy happens.
BI Intelligence research focuses on six somewhat interconnected fields, including digital media, payments, fintech, the internet of things, e-commerce, apps and platforms. While the researchers have topics and editorial plans, the Intelligence team will occasionally use the Insiders panel to get rapid reaction and insights into topics that appear in the news.
A recent example of this is The Digital Trust Report, which was launched in response to a spate of stories about advertisers suddenly worrying about the brand safety of platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Peng used the Insiders panel to get a sense of the extent to which its panelists trusted platforms like YouTube and Facebook but also other platforms that were less a part of the discussion, like LinkedIn.
While some of that information appeared in stories published on the ad-supported side of BI, the lion’s share of it wound up as insights available only to subscribers and in a standalone report that was ready in under a week.
“People talk about breaking news,” Peng said. “We’re able to break data.”
Growing these sorts of revenue streams is a priority as Business Insider starts to run out of the raw audience growth runway it’s sped down over the past few years. It had 54 million unique visitors in March, according to comScore data.
These services, along with a growing native advertising and creative services team, have all contributed to healthy growth: BI’s revenues were up 50 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2017, according to an earnings report Axel Springer released earlier this month.
Research is a popular add-on for publishers. U.S. media intelligence and research will be a $3.2 billion market this year, according to research released on Wednesday by Burton-Taylor. Condé Nast has held panels like the Condé Girls for years, and Vice announced earlier this month it was partnering with Kantar Lightspeed to build a 30,000-person panel that the publisher and its ad partners could query for audience research. Even smaller publishers like Fatherly are building panels that they can use not only to get feedback on their own product development but on product categories that advertisers are involved in.
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