Think small: the new metrics of engagement for news

“And small numbers of loyal users can mean big revenues:

  • The 22,000 “partners” who pay 60 euros a year for in Spain represent nearly 40% of their revenues but less than 1% of their total unique users, according to the CEO (in Spanish).
  • The 2.5 million digital-only subscribers to the New York Times represent less than 3% of their total users but now generate more revenue than print advertising, a historic milestone.”


Read full blog post by James Breiner

Don’t start 2018 without catching up on the data from this year

You can measure the year in top songs, top movies, or top recipes, taking a look at what made this year “special” using data. But what was special about the data of this year? We’re taking a look at the biggest trends that we found in 2017 using data, and using it to figure out what the big questions will be in 2018. Continue reading “Don’t start 2018 without catching up on the data from this year”

PressCoin is a cryptocurrency for investigative journalists and their readers

A coalition of news organizations and journalists in various parts of the world have banded together to create a cryptocurrency to sustain funding for investigative journalism. Called PressCoin, the digital currency was made to get rid of the advertising revenue model, decentralize funding sources, and upend corporate media monopolies with collaborative content made to strengthen civic participation around the world. A 28-day initial coin offering (ICO) is scheduled to begin November 22, with one PressCoin for sale at the value of $1.

“If PressCoin succeeds, I’m going to delete my Patreon account. Kind of a different ball game,” Nafeez Ahmed told VentureBeat in a Skype interview. Continue reading “PressCoin is a cryptocurrency for investigative journalists and their readers”

“Exceedingly generous”: Google will split revenue with publishers who use its new subscription tools

Google, an advertising giant, has been making nice with news publishers by developing a series of tools they can use to more precisely attract and target paid subscribers. (It also ended the first-click-free policy this month, allowing subscription-based publishers to choose how many articles to show to readers for free without search-ranking consequence.)

Google’s nice comes at a small business price for any publishers who might want to use the planned subscription tools, but the details are still being ironed out with publishers.

“It will obviously come down to what we think that business relationship should be, but bottom line, I think [revenue sharing] will be exceedingly generous [to news publishers],” Google’s head of news Richard Gingras told the Financial Times on Sunday. “In our ad environment, the rev shares are 70 per cent-plus. The rev shares [for publishers] will be significantly more generous than that.” (Google’s AdSense offers around a 70-30 split for publishers who use it to place ads on their sites.)

Gingras made sure to distinguish Google’s tack from Facebook’s “walled garden” approach, telling the FT that “unlike other participants in the environment, we’re not trying to own the publisher. If there are cases where we do cause the subscription to happen, we don’t want to own the customer. None of this changes the marketplace economics, people will pay for what they value.”

That “other participant in the environment” on Friday formally announced its test of news subscriptions models within its Instant Articles format, through which it won’t take any cut of the revenue from subscription signups (the subscription transaction and payment processing will take place entirely on the publishers’ site). Facebook’s subscription tests are Android-only, as it’s been wrestling with Apple over the past few months over Apple’s default 30 percent cut of “in-app sales,” Recode reported.

The New York Times just had a pretty stellar first quarter, thanks to The Wirecutter and a ton of new digital subs

The failing New York Times actually had a pretty amazing first quarter, adding more subscriptions than at any other point in its history (308,000 net new digital subscriptions!). Despite continued declines in print advertising, the company was able to make up enough from digital advertising, subscriptions, and brand-spanking-new affiliate revenue from its Wirecutter/Sweethome acquisition to actually grow revenues overall: They were up 5 percent for the quarter, to $398.8 million.

Unpacking the release a bit:

— The New York Times now has 2.2 million digital-only subscriptions, up 62.2 percent compared to this time last year. It added 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the quarter, “making Q1 the single best quarter for subscriber growth in our history,” CEO Mark Thompson said in the release. 40,000 people subscribed to the crossword product during the quarter.

— “Circulation revenue from the Company’s digital-only subscriptions (which includes news product and Crossword product subscriptions) was up 40 percent over this time in 2016, to $75.8 million. $72.9 million of that came from subscriptions to news products, meaning that the Crossword product subscriptions are pulling in around $3 million a year.

— Digital advertising revenue was up 19 percent, to $49.7 million, while print advertising fell by 17.9 percent. Digital now makes up 38.2 percent of the company’s total advertising revenues, an 8.3 percent increase compared to this time last year.

— The acquisition of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome is paying off. The Times made $26.4 million in “other” revenues in the first quarter, a 20.9 percent increase compared to this time in 2016. According to the release, this was “largely due to affiliate revenue associated with the product review and recommendation websites, The Wirecutter and The Sweethome, which the Company acquired in October 2016.” If the Times indeed made $5 million in affiliate revenue in a quarter, the reported $30 million that the company paid for the sites now seems like a total bargain.

We’ll be on the conference call at 11 a.m. ET.

Platforms and Publishers: Is the Glass Half Empty?

The tone of a new report released by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, “The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley reengineered journalism,” is striking.

The report, which outlines the effects of third-party distribution on news publishers, is at times dark (“Many in the room likely felt empathy with the watermelon, as their businesses were being squeezed slowly to the point of implosion by external forces beyond their control.”) and urgent (“In the wake of the election, we have an immediate opportunity to turn the attention focused on tech power and journalism into action.”).

The cumulative findings seem to stack up against publishers’ best interests, highlighting how platforms have encroached on core activities of publishers, the proliferation of fake news, and the influence of social platforms on editorial content. How optimistic should publishers be about the results of a convergence between journalism and platforms?

We had a chance to hear more about the topic at a recent panel discussion between speakers from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism (including Emily Bell, one of the authors of the report), The Intercept, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Consequences of Platforms Behaving Like Publishers

Social platforms have had concrete effects on newsrooms. Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of The Intercept, explained, “Social media is not only where we distribute our journalism; it’s where we do our journalism.”

speakers at the Lunch & Learn

Speakers on the panel discussing the power dynamic between journalism and Silicon Valley.

Platforms have impacted how journalists frame and source stories. Nausicaa Renner, web editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, underscores how social platforms influence the way newsrooms allocate resources, especially in response to the development of new tools and platform features. In a fundamental way, according to the Tow Center report, “The influence of social platforms shapes the journalism itself.”

“Publishers are making micro-adjustments on every story to achieve a better fit or better performance on each social outlet. This inevitably changes the presentation and tone of the journalism itself.” —“The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley reengineered journalism”

Betsy Reed said, “We very much think about social media when we’re framing a piece.” She has found “the kind of content that tends to be shareable and travels is on the simpler side,” though “high emotional content” that is “very complex, and erudite, and deeply argued, and informed…travels like crazy on social networks.” Adapting the way a piece is framed to optimize its success on social platforms isn’t necessarily detrimental to the writing process:

“We’ll try to take an argumentative tone. We’ll try to connect emotionally with an audience with the framing of a story and I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing for journalism.” —Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of The Intercept

A section header in the Tow Center report refers to “The Publishers’ Dilemma.” On the one hand, relying on platforms for distribution means publishers face a lack of transparency, unreliable metrics, and the changeability of algorithms and other features. But without third-party distribution, publishers relinquish an opportunity to connect with and grow their audience.

What can publishers do when confronted with this catch-22? Going forward, the panelists highlighted the importance of urging transparency and varying business models.

Increased Transparency from Third-Party Platforms

Currently, a lack of transparency from platforms is contributing to the friction with publishers. The Tow Center report called out the “single most controversial, influential, and secretive algorithm in the world is the one that drives the Facebook News Feed.”

Are the steps being taken towards transparency going in the right direction? Andrew M. Seaman, senior medical journalist for Reuters and ethics committee chairperson for the Society of Professional Journalists, thinks it’s a good sign that Facebook wants to help, but there has to be more of a dialogue. If the platform moves forward without collaborating with news publishers, the result will be “Facebook’s idea of a solution and not probably what’s best for journalism and the public.”

Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, had a more optimistic view. She reiterated that Facebook “has shifted a long way in just three or four months.”

panel discussion

Panelists at The Intercept’s office on April 6, 2017.

At this time, having an “engaged conversation” with platform companies—not just Facebook—is critical. “The founders of Facebook and Google are not monsters,” Emily said, and there’s an opportunity for a dialogue that will continue to encourage transparency and a role for platforms in protecting journalism.

Encouraging Direct Reader Support

Advertising works when scale is involved, and platforms drive scale. Publishers are gravitating away from focusing on scale towards focusing on loyalty and direct reader support.

Betsy Reed said, “One of the financial models that I think is most promising and potentially healthy for journalism involves direct reader support.” Subscription models and donations to nonprofit newsrooms help build a community around journalism.

Andrew Seaman agreed, saying, “One of the things that is sort of heartening to me is that if we move to a subscription model for content that is going to be delivered visually, we get better journalism.” From an ethics perspective, better quality journalism rises to the top in this model.

Andrew also stressed the work that needs to go into affecting progress: “We need to do groundwork to actually improve media literacy and rebuild trust in journalism.”

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How Bild uses Facebook Instant Articles to drive subscriptions

Axel Springer’s Bild is looking to use Facebook Instant Articles to drive subscriptions.

The German publisher has reduced the number of steps readers have to take when signing up for a subscription through Instant Articles from nine to three.

The Axel Springer tabloid was among the first wave of publishers using Facebook Instant Articles when it launched in July 2015. Since then, it has dialed up and down the number of its stories it posts, from 20 percent of all published, to all of them, plus a brief stint of abstinence. Currently, all of Bild’s articles are formatted for IA.

“We have several requirements that are fundamental to working with third-party platforms,” said Stefan Betzold, managing director for Bild. “Partner platforms need to support our paid content initiatives and help us track new subscriptions through their platform.”

Bild Plus launched four years ago offering readers access to extra content. It now has 347,000 paying readers, subscriptions usually cost €9.99 ($10.58) a month for access to extra content. Although the majority of Bild’s digital revenue comes still from advertising, driven by its scale of 20 million monthly uniques.

“The best funnel for Bild Plus is our reach and our free articles,” said Betzold.

Facebook’s IA doesn’t have the ecosystem to support payments, unlike Apple News. At the beginning of this year, Bild began using the Instant Articles ad spots to promote two free weeks of Bild Plus, rolled out to a small sample of Instant Article readers. But sign-up was a lengthy process, which included confirming the reader wants the free trial, entering an email address, approving Bild could extract data from Facebook’s platform, then reentering details into Bild’s own platform, as well as agreeing to various privacy requirements.

“By that point, we had lost most of the interested users. Only a very small number would make it through the whole nine steps; it was a nightmare,” said Betzold. “And Facebook is always telling us about great user experience.”

Bild put its own developers on the case with Facebook. By February, it had reduced the process to three steps. Now, connecting with Facebook’s API, the reader’s email address is directly pushed to Bild’s database, pre-activating the reader’s account, and sending out an email from the publisher.

“It’s a first good step in getting [trial users] into our system, but when the two-week period is over, we need to use our CRM system to target them again,” he said. “Is it strong enough to attract to attract subscribers? We want to go further; we need deeper integration.” Now payment integration is the missing link. “Facebook needs to make this a standardized project so it can be used for any publisher.”

In March last year, Facebook introduced a similar, yet less complex, process testing email newsletter sign-ups with publishers like The New York Times and the Washington Post. To continue to have successful partnerships with publishers, Facebook needs to offer more seamless ways for them to connect with readers directly.

“Am I happy? On some requirements, yes. On others, no,” said Betzold. “But I’d rather work with Facebook to improve them. That’s a better position for me than reducing Instant Articles and saying that it’s just not working.”

The post How Bild uses Facebook Instant Articles to drive subscriptions appeared first on Digiday.

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