Credit: Runaway Collective
This week, Digiday published a report suggesting that publishers are now starting to face many of the retention and acquisition challenges that other digital subscription-based businesses have contended with for years. As we’ve covered previously, subscriptions are a core part of the potential revenue mix for larger, more established publishers that are making progress in diversifying revenue in the face of falling display CPMs and unreliable distribution platform algorithms.But getting people to pay for your product may not actually be the hardest part, as struggling subscription food box provider Blue Apron would be (not so) happy to tell you.
The real trick for publishers is customer retention and preventing churn.
Acquiring subscribers is one thing. But the real money (and challenge) is in retention, as publishers have been learning. A new report from the subscription software provider Zuora states that publisher subscriptions experienced a 30% churn rate from 2017-2018.
For most publishers, subscription model concepts are nothing new — newspapers like the New York Times and magazines like Forbes have been selling print subscriptions for a century. However, digital is a different beast that requires new strategies. The New York Times hired marketing experts from outside industries like retail to its digital retention team in 2017, increasing revenue from digital subscriptions by 46 percent over the year.
Segmenting email lists is a basic principle within digital marketing used to personalize content to specific types of customers and prospects. But this is new terrain for a lot of publishers — Digiday reported this week that The Business Journals began segmenting their 430,000 subscribers for all 43 of their publications only six months ago. Unlike segmenting on-site audience traffic for advertisers, this level of segmentation requires a very different set of capabilities.
Meanwhile, this week The Drum interviewed two Wall Street Journal execs about their success with retargeting customers efficiently with a new dynamic paywallthat programmatically varies the number of free articles site visitors get depending on their position in the sales funnel. The number of articles open for free access depends on factors like visit frequency and depth of reading. It’s a factor that helped Dow Jones (parent company of The Wall Street Journal) reach its 3 million subscriber goal in April 2018.
Even though churn management is a priority, publishers still can’t neglect acquisition. A write-up this week on the Financial Times highlighted their success in creating new Instagram-specific content to drive subscribers. Publishers such as Conde Nast are attempting to draw more interest from younger site visitors, thereby converting them into subscribers.
Additionally, The New York Times is experimenting with short-run newsletters — limited email series of email covering topics such as “Summer in the City” or “Game of Thrones” as a way to introduce potential consumers to their brand and content. Meanwhile the Washington Post is introducing subscriber-only newsletters as a way to create more value.
The world is increasingly moving towards the subscription economy. For a set monthly fee, you can get razors, movies, music, meals, and more whenever you want.For the media world, subscription is looking good yet again in the midst of data mining and limited organic reach on social distribution platforms. In the words of Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, the ad-only experiment failed. Now it’s publishers turn to learn from the brands operating in that space for far longer.
Branded content can be a boon for brands of all sizes looking to drive awareness, credibility, and positive category association. Publishers can often generate more brand recognition and marketing ROI for brands than they could ever hope to achieve on their own.
One of the core reasons for executing branded content is generating higher social traction than a brand could execute independently, which can potentially drive a downstream effect of other blogs and websites linking to your content. Here's some tips for getting the most SEO bang for your branded content buck.
Buzzfeed revealed that it would be diversifying it’s live streaming distribution to spend more efforts on Twitch, expanding its use of the platform beyond their one-off specials (such as a live streaming event from the bottom of the ocean). They explained that their decision to diversify was prompted by falling engagement on Facebook Live, as well as Twitch’s capabilities around scheduling and re-running content.
Buzzfeed isn’t the only publisher shifting their live video strategies away from Facebook Live. Media companies like Time inc, Young Turks, Fullscreen, and Theorist Media have all seen notable upticks in YouTube live viewership. For example, Theorist Media’s YouTube channel GTLive has seen a 38% to 45% increase in concurrent live viewers since the beginning of 2018.
These moves come as more brands are creating video content for engaging with existing customers and growing choosier about which platforms they use for distribution. Facebook Live, despite all of its recently-announced new tools for Live video creators, is progressively losing reach.
The past ten years has seen an explosion of video platforms, all of which have specialized to serve different needs. Facebook and Instagram are distinctly used for distribution of short form branded video and ad hoc live streaming for casual streaming to friends. Twitch however has long established itself as the home for professional livestreamers (particularly in video gaming and art niches) — Twitch viewers are primed for long form content with options for interaction with the creator.
Despite conflicts over monetization, YouTube still rules for longer form video and branded live streaming (particularly with individual creators). Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon audiences come for scripted content with more mainstream stars — and budgets for original content for the three networks are projected to hit $10 billionin 2018.
The crystallization between these different video distribution platforms feels even more imminent as audiences continue to self-segment. That may not be a bad thing — as long as advertisers can track where the customers are going. At Turner’s latest Upfront presentation to advertisers in New York, president David Levy said, “Audience targeting works, and is generating drastically greater results for our advertising and marketing partners. The time is now — this upfront — for advertisers to change how they think about the value of their marketing and invest in audience targeting.”
Brands will need to start evaluating their video sharing strategy fast. The lines are being drawn on what platforms will serve what audiences and where each type of creator will be best supported. Create and cut-down once, then copy-and-paste is not a viable strategy.
This week, screenshots were leaked of Facebook’s newest influencer marketing project: A search engine-like hub brands can use to locate potential influencers for their campaigns.The new influencer search engine will provide information about influencers such as age, marital status, and top countries of popularity. Audience data for the influencer’s fans will also be provided. As of this week, it’s unclear if the new platform will allow users to contact influencers through Facebook or email.
Facebook’s upcoming platform (as it is displayed in the leaked screenshots) doesn’t include Instagram data, the #1 most important platform to marketers looking to utilize influencer marketing in 2018. But even with this data, the database doesn’t (yet!) replace the human touch that appeals to marketers looking for more of a full-service approach. 42% of marketers looking to work with influencers use a service provider as a go-between. Agencies may adopt this tool in-house, allowing their existing customers to reap their curator expertise without having to sift through dozens of influencer accounts.
The parties most at risk for replacement with this tool in the near-term are the third party platforms creating databases using Facebook data. It would be the latest entry in a long-running trend of Facebook burning those who create businesses based on their platform. Zynga’s still recovering from their separation from Facebook, once so key to their infrastructure. The Facebook Platform continues to draw controversy (and fear) over it’s changing rules. Organic reach tanked in 2018 (not for the first time), separating the brands who could diversify from the rest of the pack. A renewed focus on local stories limited what little non-paid reach remained for brands on Facebook.
Moral of the story: Facebook cares most about Facebook. Influencer marketing firms not relying on Facebook won’t be threatened by the invention of the influencer search engine. But the companies who have built a business solely off Facebook’s data, if history repeats itself, may find themselves out of business in the next year.
Curated and published by Adam Orshan, Brit McGinnis, and Matt Levin in New York City.