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How “transformation as a data-centric digital platform” helped the publisher of Reader’s Digest record 110% growth

TMB (formerly known as Trusted Media Brands) the publisher of Reader’s Digest closed out 2021 on an upward trajectory, recording 110% YoY growth in EBITDA for US operations. Its US Digital EBITDA was +85%. 

The publisher’s successful turnaround from facing bankruptcy in 2013 (its second in five years) is “largely due to its transformation as a data-centric digital platform,” according to Jason Buhrmester, Chief Content Officer, Reader Digest. It now combines several brands led by Reader’s Digest, now known as

“Unprecedented revenue growth opportunities for digital publishers”

“As our digital footprint grows, we are attracting new audiences to our brands,” Vince Errico, President, Digital, TMB told FIPP earlier. “We’re also attracting younger audiences who might already know the brand but hadn’t been aware that the content is available online.

Understanding and catering to those different consumption habits, wherever someone wants to interact with us, are key drivers of growth. 

Vince Errico, President, Digital, TMB

The strategy has helped TMB maintain the Reader’s Digest brand’s fandom among readers between the ages of 18 and 50+. The YoY growth rate of website visitors between the ages of 25-44 on increased 85%–the highest growth among its competitive set. 9 in 10 of visitors do not read the magazine, highlighting the effectiveness of the digital-first strategy of the publication. 

The publisher’s digital revenue including programmatic, direct, newsletters, and digital products grew by 26% in FY20 and 32% in FY21. Affiliate revenue was +90% in FY20 and +105% in FY21. Streaming/CTV revenue was +100% in FY20 and +37% in FY21. These achievements are largely due to its content commerce strategy, according to the publisher. “TMB realized early on that publishers are the new storefront,” says Buhrmester, “and it would need to tap into the full power of content commerce to drive relevancy among its core audience and advertising partners.”

Driven by evolving consumer preferences, coupled with the diminishing measurability and trackability of ad success, commerce content is commanding a larger share of marketers’ budget. This, in turn, opens up unprecedented revenue growth opportunities for digital publishers. 

David A. Yovanno, CEO,

“Established a trust that runs deep”

Apart from Reader’s Digest, TMB’s portfolio of brands includes Taste of Home and Family Handyman. These are focused on home and community and have high user engagement. 

Time spent on site is nearly 70% higher than its competitive set and monthly video views that top the viewership of similar food, DIY, and lifestyle sites combined. Their audiences have increased 40% YoY and commerce business has grown 75% in the past year.

We have established a trust that runs deep with our audience and we personalize our data, content, and insights with them in mind. In fact, around 70% of our traffic is from search, giving us immediate insight into what consumers want.

Jason Buhrmester, Chief Content Officer, Reader Digest

TMB evolved over the course of many strategic decisions. These included: 

  • completely overhauling the taxonomy to get higher-quality insights and better reporting
  • migrating to a new data management platform (DMP) to gather more data at scale and get super precise about targeting 
  • centralizing the data lake to create a holistic view of users and connecting the pipes for unification across all its brands
  • strengthing email marketing strategies which achieved 12+% annual growth each of the past few years to cross 1M engaged email subscribers

The publisher uses a first-party data solution called “trusted intelligence 360” or “ti360.” It serves as “the intersection between editorial leadership, marketers and researchers, and data operations that result in targeted and custom opportunities for our partners that deliver results.” 

“Deliver revenue for years to come”

“2021 was a transformative year for us, as we’ve seen tremendous growth across streaming, eCommerce, affiliate, and programmatic, among other areas,” said Bonnie Kintzer, CEO of TMB. “We have a number of new, exciting initiatives in store for 2022, and plan to continue to break barriers on our upward growth trajectory across categories.”

TMB is looking at significantly scaling its commerce business by investing in multiple areas of eCommerce—spanning product development, affiliate marketing, editorial, and consumer marketing—to maintain its growth momentum. It already offers several products under its Taste of Home brand including cookware, bakeware, cookbooks, as well as a direct-to-consumer subscription box. Family Handyman offers DIY University classes and building plans. 

We’re preparing for the cookieless future. Because our content is so highly intent-driven and we have a lot of first-party data from all the products we sell directly to consumers, we will be taking a somewhat more proprietary approach than many of our competitors.

Jason Buhrmester, Chief Content Officer, Reader Digest

Content commerce is “highly profitable, delivering high margin, and through evergreen content, predictable revenue streams,” said Matthew Smith, MD, eCommerce, Future PLC. “Unlike ad revenue, publishers don’t have to wait for new deals to be signed the same way they wait for ad insertion orders.” 

On the retail side, content commerce cuts through the noise of display ads. Because editorial content that independently reviews or ranks products includes links, there’s a valuable halo attached to the recommendation. The publisher’s reputation and trust are bestowed upon the reviewed products and the recommended places to buy.

Matt Smith, MD, eCommerce, Future PLC

“Evergreen commerce articles are the new storefront for retailers,” concluded Smith. “Working with publishers on evergreen content doesn’t just drive revenue now. Such articles, if maintained and updated regularly, can deliver revenue for years to come.”