How The Economist’s new app tries to keep people from unsubscribing

To grow reader revenue, publishers are increasingly putting customers at the center of their organizations to drive subscriptions and retention.

For the past eight months, The Economist has worked to drive retention, as it’s cheaper to keep readers than to acquire new ones. Case in point is its new Economist app, which went live May 2 and is free to download, but requires a subscription to access articles. Continue reading “How The Economist’s new app tries to keep people from unsubscribing”

Politics publisher The Canary is converting text articles to audio to find new audiences

To broaden its audience, British left-leaning news site The Canary has been converting all its text articles to audio since last September. In time, it plans to make its audio articles available on voice assistant devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, where publishers are increasingly making more content available. Continue reading “Politics publisher The Canary is converting text articles to audio to find new audiences”

CNBC eyes monetization after its voice audience doubled this year

Publishers have been enthusiastic about voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant this year, often undaunted by the fact that these platforms require bespoke content, and the route to monetization is still unclear. After promising levels of its audience returned each week to use its Alexa skill, CNBC’s global ad sales team will start selling audio sponsorship packages to advertisers in the next few months. Continue reading “CNBC eyes monetization after its voice audience doubled this year”

The BBC is using facial coding and eye tracking to prove its branded content works

Proving the effectiveness of branded content has been an industry fixation in 2017, BBC StoryWorks, the branded-content arm of the broadcaster’s commercial division BBC Worldwide, is offering clients facial-coding and eye-tracking tools to show its branded content works, the fruits of two years of research. Continue reading “The BBC is using facial coding and eye tracking to prove its branded content works”

The Economist’s video strategy shifts focus to YouTube

The Economist Films division gets most of its views on Facebook, but like other publishers, it’s turning its attention to YouTube, where audiences tend to be more loyal and engaged than on Facebook. The 20-plus person division began in mid-2015 with a focus on long-form series, like entrepreneur-focused “The Hub,” backed by Santander, and “The World in 2018,” supported by Thomson Reuters. This year, The Economist also started releasing three editorial videos a week, lasting under five minutes, like this on the gender pay gap or this on foreign aid distribution. Continue reading “The Economist’s video strategy shifts focus to YouTube”

Cheatsheet: How Europe is moving to regulate Google and Facebook

Government authorities have faced mounting pressure to regulate technology platforms across the world. This week, an independent watchdog recommended U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May introduce two new laws that would see platforms like Google and Facebook face similar regulations to publishers. Add to that the ongoing antitrust cases in Europe and accusations of spreading Russian propaganda, and platforms have been faced with more government intervention than they could have anticipated. Here’s what you need to know about how governments are trying to control the ways platforms conduct business in Europe. Continue reading “Cheatsheet: How Europe is moving to regulate Google and Facebook”

Hearst Magazines UK CEO James Wildman: ‘The media world is turning into a messy place’

Hearst Magazines U.K. CEO James Wildman, who took up the post this April from Trinity Mirror, has a familiar mandate for magazine publisher: drive digital revenue growth to offset losses in print and find new revenue streams.

“The midterm objective is to reach the inflection point quickly. Our growth in new revenue will have to more than offset the decline in old revenue,” he said. “Next year will be top-line revenue growth year-on-year.”

Hearst U.K. is home to brands like Harpers Bazaar and Good Housekeeping. The publisher halved its annual losses to £2.7 million ($3.6 million) in its last financial year, but it still relies on print for 70 percent of its revenue.

Since Wildman took up the post, he’s set up quarterly meetings with Hearst U.K.’s 1,000 employees and reorganized teams. Digiday spoke to Wildman to discuss its growing product licensing and events businesses and the shifting power of platforms. The conversation has been slightly edited for clarity.

What changes have you made since you arrived?
When I arrived, nothing was broken. We had all the raw materials — strong brands and great journalists — but it felt like a bowl of spaghetti: It wasn’t particularly structured. It felt like 22 businesses under one roof, rather than 22 brands within one business. The opportunity now is around collaboration without losing the focus of the individual brands.

How are you doing that?
On the editorial side, we’re taking a “hubbing” approach. Our three main lifestyle brands [Good Housekeeping, Prima and Red] and our three main home brands [House Beautiful, Country Living and Elle Decoration] are now bigger editorial groups. It’s still important to cherish the individual brands but we’re encouraging more cross-brand working, so an article will be written that could appear on any three but iterated for it. It’s not necessarily more efficient but definitely more collaborative.

What about on the commercial side?
We used to have brand-by-brand sales teams. We’ve pivoted toward an agency-sales model, our agency-facing sales group has specialists in print, digital, creative solutions and planners. That’s meant hiring a full-time sales trainer to repurpose our staff. Agencies are finding us easier to navigate — that was a criticism — therefore we’re easier to do business with. Agencies didn’t want to talk to 20 different people from Hearst. They want one more valuable conversation about the strength and breadth of the organization, not just through advertising.

What else does that entail?
Our product licensing business is relatively unknown, [sofa retailer] DFS will sell £50 million ($66.7 million) worth of Country Living sofas this year. Argos’ best-selling home gym is Men’s Health equipment. There is a House Beautiful Carpet Right range selling like hotcakes. You can buy Men’s Health beef jerky in any supermarket. That demonstrates the power and trust of those brands. There’s so much we can and will do. We’re also investing in events. In the last year, revenue from events has doubled. We run roughly two events a week, like the Esquire Town House or the Harpers Bazaar Women of the Year Awards.

Are you making revenue from the platforms?
Third-party platforms will become increasingly important in our future. We have a symbiotic relationship with platforms, like Snapchat. It’s good for them to have Cosmo on Snapchat Discover, and we get a revenue share. You could argue the balance of power is with them because of their extraordinary scale, but they don’t have the content.

Do advertisers care?
Advertisers have to understand the decision to put money into a platform which doesn’t employ a single content creator, and in so doing put some quality publishing businesses under pressure. We’re seeing the word trust used in briefs more and more, that’s interesting. The media world is turning into a messy place. Trust is as low as it’s ever been. In an increasingly fragmented world, our brands are rubies in the dust.

What would you like to change about the industry?
Advertisers should take more interest and critique the channel choices their agencies are making. The average marketer probably spends 10 percent of their time thinking about the media. The walled gardens trade on their own metrics — that alone is extraordinary. But I’m confident logic will out. We have to be more on the front foot about what we can offer.

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The Telegraph finds success with Apple News

Since the Telegraph adapted its paywall model last November, the publisher has become more serious about distributing content to third-party platforms. This is particularly true of Apple News. Since January, Apple News has had the publisher sell ads in Apple News in the U.K.

The Telegraph publishes all content to Apple News. Since April, it has been using Apple News to drive subscriptions to the 20 percent of its content that is premium. The publisher wouldn’t disclose how many subscribers Apple News has driven. The Telegraph’s Apple News channel gets 5 million unique monthly visitors and delivers 70 million monthly ad impressions, according to the publisher. For comparison, CNN said its Apple News content had 36.5 million unique readers last year. Continue reading “The Telegraph finds success with Apple News”

‘Ignore it at your peril’: Ad-blocking costs top UK publishers an average of £500,000 per year

Ad blocking has moved from exponential to linear growth: The sky might not be falling, but ignore it at your peril. Skewed metrics are a major distraction for publishers trying to tackle this problem, but focusing on the financial losses is one route to encourage all parties to find a solution.

The UK Association of Online Publishers aggregated data from 40 members — AOP members include Condé Nast, ESI Media, Global, the Guardian and The Telegraph — and found that the average U.K. publisher is losing £500,000 ($660,000) a year due to ad blocking.

“People should be getting more passionate about this,” said Nick Flood, product and commercial operations director at Dennis Publishing. “People need to take this more seriously.”

In order to learn more about ad-blocking behavior and recovery, Dennis Publishing, Bauer, Autotrader and Haymarket plan to collectively run a hard ban on content early next year for ad-block users across their auto sites for a day. Hard blocks on general news sites tend to be ineffective because users can access the content elsewhere.

Dennis has had experience in banning ad-block users from accessing content. Flood said it’s seeing about 20 percent of its audience block ads, which is in line with other U.K. publishers. Dennis is asking ad-block users visiting site Carbuyer to disable their ad blockers or continue to view the site with ads. In recent tests, the publisher found that 70 percent of ad-block users continue to view the site with ads — the publisher uses an ad-recovery solution — while 30 percent disabled their ad blocker. It has also tested showing a 30-second video ad before people continue through to an ad-free site, which has had a 70 percent view-through rate, according to Flood.

“People will interact with you if you have content they want to engage with; you need to push that agenda,” he said at the AOP’s Inside Out conference in London this week. “You will lose people; 30 percent of our users bounced, but we weren’t monetizing them anyway.”

With the likelihood of more browser-based ad-blocking solutions around the corner and the anticipation that mobile ad blocking will grow, communicating with users is more effective than tackling ad-block developers and companies. “Rather than a cat-and-mouse game, it’s more like an in-browser knife fight,” said Flood.

Desktop rates in the U.K. appear to have stabilized. Studies from the Internet Advertising Bureau found that the percentage of U.K. adults blocking ads has held steady at 21 percent since February 2016. However, this could be because there has been a higher growth in ad blockers that block analytics, and mobile is accounting for more of publishers’ traffic.

“From a data perspective, I’ve always been concerned that we can’t accurately analyze our audience,” said Jo Holdaway, chief data officer at ESI Media. “It’s not just the loss of revenue but the loss of insight and inference about our audience.”

Around 20 percent of ESI Media’s audience blocks ads across The Independent and the Evening Standard. ESI Media has been monitoring ad-blocking rates before deciding on a firm strategy; it’s asking users politely to disable ad blockers, but the conversion is low. For Dennis, this soft approach only saw 3 percent of users engage.

Holdaway estimates that 30 percent of those who block ads are also blocking analytics. This corresponds with studies by Oriel, which provides ad-blocking solutions for publishers, across publishers using its technology. There has been a 125 percent increase from last year in analytics blocking, according to Oriel.

“On desktop, it might have stabilized, but don’t be complacent,” said Holdaway. “Ignore it at your peril.”

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On the minds of European publishers: Platform pushback, GDPR enforcement and ad fraud

More than 200 executives from top publishing companies across Europe gathered this week at the Digiday Publishing Summit Europe in Berlin to address the biggest challenges facing digital media. Talk focused around publishing on platforms, scaling video and preparing for the looming enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation.

During town hall-style meetings and working groups, attendees identified the biggest issues on their minds. Here’s a summary:

Pushing back on platforms
European publishers have a fractious relationship with U.S. tech giants. Axel Springer’s Bild asked 30 international media brands how well these platforms listen and react to publisher needs. When meeting with Google, Facebook and Snapchat, the German publisher now uses a traffic-light framework to assess how platforms meet its requirements like user engagement, access to tracking and targeting data, control over the advertising strategy and the ability to subscribe to its BildPlus membership product. “There’s progress over time,” said Stefan Betzold, managing director of Bild. Another view was that rather than compete with Facebook and Google on reach, they need to find other ways to differentiate.

How do social platforms listen and react to publishers?

Video monetization versus user experience
Publishers need to balance user experience and revenue, and different parts of the business favor one over the other. It’s tempting to load up sites with video ads, but audiences are already inundated with autoplay video, outstream ads that follow them as they read and 30-second pre-roll ads. But removing formats like autoplay can cause short-term declines in revenue. Attendees said everyone in the supply chain needs to promote the benefits of shorter, more effective and relevant ads rather than wait for platforms to set the standard.

Looming GDPR enforcement
Preparing for the coming enforcement of the GDPR in May was another major summit topic. One of the biggest fears voiced was around the shared liability that publishers will face if they work with third parties that aren’t GDPR-compliant and haven’t gotten explicit consent from users to use their data. On the flip side, publishers will have to demand that agencies and tech vendors are transparent about what data they’re using and from where; revise contracts to ensure vendors are compliant; and root out nontransparent practices. Publishers also discussed best ways to tell users why they need to give additional consent on a regular basis. The approach may be similar to techniques publishers have used to communicate with people who block ads, where publishers would explain that ads help pay for quality journalism.

Programmatic cleanup
The pursuit of large volumes of cheap inventory, justified by the “audience-planning” narrative, was scrutinized as a technique that has spawned the “art of buying crap,” in the words of attendees. Buyers’ love affair with buying inventory in secondary markets, like exchanges, has left advertisers and publishers vulnerable to ad fraud and other problems. Publishers need to present a united front in the same way that the likes of Procter & Gamble and Unilever have had on the advertiser side, according to publishers including Danny Spears, programmatic director at the Guardian; Axel Springer; and Schibsted.

The flight to loyalty
Driving direct connections is becoming more central to publisher strategies, whether that’s through premium membership models or subscriptions, opening up revenue streams outside of advertising. For The Washington Post, this has meant tightening its paywall spurred subscription growth. Meanwhile, The Times of London and the Sunday Times changed their publishing model from rolling news to three different digital editions daily, updated their products and introduced a registered-access option. But as Nick Petrie, deputy head of digital at the Times, said onstage, progress can be slow.

Jessica Davies contributed reporting.

The post On the minds of European publishers: Platform pushback, GDPR enforcement and ad fraud appeared first on Digiday.

How The Times of London drives its 1.8 million registered-access users to subscribe

Like other publishers, The Times of London wants to build up a stable subscriber base, but it’s a long and strenuous journey. Working out the content and formats that drive interest and then pushing readers to subscribe is a continuous learning experience.

The Times has signed up 1.8 million people to its registered-access model — people can read two articles a week in exchange for an email address — since introducing the option in May 2016. It hit 450,000 subscribers, 210,000 of whom are digital-only, this month.

Between March 2016 and March 2017, subscribers grew 8 percent. That might not seem like much, but growth had stagnated before that, said Nick Petrie, deputy head of digital at the Times and Sunday Times.

“Journeys are complicated,” Petrie said at Digiday’s Publishing Summit Europe in Berlin. “Do we show someone who came to us through a sports article more sports coverage, or do we show our breadth? The question is, how effective can we be? And we don’t know.”

The publisher is testing different messages to people unknown to the Times to drive direct subscriptions or registered-access sign-ups, Petrie said. Before the experiment, users landing on an article page were offered the option to subscribe or register for access. Now, the subscription message has recently started mentioning pricing.

Growing the pool of prospects with the right type of audience is also important. Last week, the Times created a game ahead of the Premier League season where viewers act as a football referee and judge whether a shot was offside. The first round was free to play; to play the next round, users had to register or subscribe, which led to 12,000 registrations to play the next level. In May, a piece about pop star Harry Styles from the Sunday Times Magazine drove high registered-access sign-ups, but it’s unlikely a high percentage of audiences will convert to a subscription.

To draw statistically significant conclusions about how to grow audiences and convert them to subscribers, the Times needed over a year’s worth of subscriber data to account for cases like someone being a registered-access user for seven months before converting. And like other publishers, the Times has a number of different subscription campaigns, including one offering eight weeks of digital access for £8 ($10.50); a digital subscription usually costs £26 ($34) a month.

Newsroom analytics can show what content drives direct subscriptions, registered-access users or conversions, but this data isn’t helpful on its own. “Stories are individual; we have to try and unpick backward the commonalities — the way it was written, the tone, the format and layout — to make it useful.” said Petrie. “Otherwise, it leads you down the wrong path.”

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The end of Google’s first-click free policy shows promise for publishers

While publishers remain unhappy with the returns they get from platforms like Google and Facebook for hosting their content, the tide appears to be turning.

Publishers believe Google’s removal of its first-click free model this month is the first example of the platform evolving in a way that doesn’t immediately serve its own interests. Facebook also has started tests for driving subscriptions through Instant Articles with publishers.

“We’ve never seen the platforms talk about the beginnings of ideas of what they want to do to support paid journalism,” said Chris Duncan, managing director at Times Newspapers. “Any recognition that the journalism we create is valuable to platforms is welcome. Any model where publishers keep the revenue they earn is a good thing. Any model that gives publishers control over how they interact with audiences is good. you see bits of that in the discussions we have with all the platforms.”

Since The Times of London launched its paywall in 2010, it resisted participating in Google’s first-click free policy for paywalled sites, meaning the Times effectively disappeared from Google search when it debuted the paywall. As of Oct. 21, all articles from the Times will be as discoverable on Google’s search engine as content from a publisher with no paywall.

News UK, parent of the Times, has long noted publicly the power the duopoly wields over publishers. At the publisher’s digital journalism summit with Press Gazette on Oct. 20 in London, David Dinsmore, News UK’s chief operating officer, reminded attendees that the majority of digital ad spend was going to the duopoly, while 47 percent of all engagements with U.K. websites on social media over the past year sourced content from U.K. news brands, according to a News Media Association analysis of NewsWhip data.

“Newsgathering is spending all the money digging up the news; social media platforms are extracting nearly all the revenue from it,” he said. “The terrifying prospect of not sorting out this broken relationship is a world where edited, verified news ceases to exist unless funded by that state. The verified news fuel for platforms will disappear and put at risk the rivers of gold flowing there way.”

The Telegraph, one of the partners for Facebook’s subscriptions program through Instant Articles, is optimistic about the reach platforms afford, but this relies on the right relationships. “We have a relationship with Facebook at the product level in Menlo Park [Facebook’s California headquarters]; with respect to the team in the U.K., that’s a very different relationship,” said Robert Bridge, chief customer officer at Telegraph Media Group. “Once you are talking at a product level then you can start to make a difference.”

Yet for some publishers, the platforms’ efforts smack of lip service. “It’s all window dressing until the economic problem is dealt with,” said Henry Faure Walker, Newsquest CEO. “For years, [platforms] have been riding on the professional journalistic content publishers produce, while gleaning great data insights on top, while we get the crumbs off the table.”

Platforms still need to make significant progress in taking responsibility for the spread of harmful content and the possibility of brands appearing next to either unsafe or inappropriate content.

“Google Display Network fails to discern or distinguish between quality ad environment and poorly produced amateur content,” said Faure Walker. “The government should regulate against that.”

The post The end of Google’s first-click free policy shows promise for publishers appeared first on Digiday.

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