Guest Columns Reader Revenue
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Independent Publishers Alliance: 2nd event review

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The Independent Publishers Alliance held its second event on 30th September as dozens of independent publishers took the well-trodden path to the Crown and Two Chairmen in London’s Soho. The ‘Crown and Two’ has, down the years, played a key role in many media movements, business plans, arguments, and more…. It proved once again a suitable venue for information sharing, note-taking, and networking amongst our talented membership.

A terrific lineup of speakers were able to pass on some excellent tips, advice, hacks, and also offer warnings of challenges from publishers who have faced them and who understand what success (and the opposite) look like in their chosen field.

We were honoured that Justin Pearce, Editor of New Digital Age, was on hand to act as MC, manage the conversation and ask the pertinent questions – questions that independent publishers need answering in order to diversify revenue streams effectively.

First on the rostrum was Alliance Co-founder and Frontman Alex Newberry who explained how amidst all the disruption in the wider society and economy, 2021 has been an encouraging start for the Alliance. Significant publisher interest has meant that the group has been able to expand the Alliance’s board to include AVForum’s Gemma Reeves and Trusted Review’s Chris Dicker, publishers of two of the UK’s most popular independent publisher brands.

Looking ahead

Alex outlined how 2022 will see us formalise the Alliance and ask publishers to pay a small membership fee.

Member benefits include…

  • Exclusive invitations to the quarterly Alliance event
  • Exclusive invitations to online/face to face roundtables and publisher clinics held throughout the year
  • Membership of the advocacy programme to include the platforms, legislative and privacy bodies
  • Intro and advice to selected technology vendors
  • Access to Alliance Slack/Whatsapp channels

Interested in becoming a part of the Alliance? Please register your interest here.

Anyway, back to the Crown and Two!

The very smart both in intelligence and attire; Chris Daniels, Chief Revenue Officer of Haymarket joined Justin on stage. Chris was asked to share some of his experiences of building branded content solutions for his business and clients.

Here are some of the highlights from Chris and Justin’s conversation:

  • Branded content solutions are, and should be, extremely profitable. 
  • They are an opportunity for your editorial team to build editorial products with a non-constricted content budget. For editors used to tightened budgets this is a great opportunity to get creative.
  • With achievable success metrics these can be re-booked across a number of years – they don’t have to be one off activations.
  • Commercial and editorial teams need to be aligned with the aims of the project. This has to be established and agreed at the beginning of the project, otherwise things can get awkward.
  • Independent publishers without the scale to engage an agency, should approach brands directly – then, once successful, that is when an agency can be engaged. Be careful to control the attribution requirements – stick to your guns on what you can achieve.
  • Editorial attendance and contributions at client meetings, to discuss these projects, are invaluable in allowing the editorial team to communicate their understanding of what the audience want and how they would propose achieving the stated goals.

Chris leaves the stage, mobbed by admirers

Julian Thorne, Chief Customer Officer at Dennis Publishing was next on stage. As a twist of fate, it was also the day before he was to join Future Publishing as part of the latter’s acquisition of Dennis – but he was still delighted to share some of his experiences and knowledge around subscription and reader revenue with the audience.

In 2020 Julian wrote the InPublishing Guide to Retention Strategies for Publishers. It can still be purchased for £60 on the InPublishing website. Cheap at the price!

Here are some of the highlights from Julian and Justin’s conversation:

  • Think of subscription revenues as your readers lending you money for a promise that you should deliver upon. Up front cash in the bank is important for independent publishers as it offers security and stability.
  • Digital marketing is a hugely efficient way to market subscriptions, offering the chance of lower customer acquisition costs (CAC!). By understanding your digital audience, digital marketing also helps you find lookalike audiences.
  • Sell correctly at the beginning and this will reap rewards. Oversell at the beginning and readers may not re-subscribe.
  • Subscription renewal is the key metric for a product’s value. Make it easy to subscribe, over-deliver on your promise and then make it a habit. Find a way that your media and products create a habit – habits are hard to break.
  • Not all media brands are right for subscription – work out your value proposition, can you develop a hero product?
  • Find out why your most loyal audiences value your product. Let them tell you how to market your reader revenue strategies.
  • Rarely does a ‘no ads for subscription’ strategy work. It causes internal friction between commercial teams and your most loyal customers who use your products the most. Ads and subscription can work together to create better personalised ad experiences for your subscribers.
  • Don’t make subscription cancellation hard, you’re then likely to lose that customer for good. Its not a marriage it’s a relationship.

Julian leaves to rapturous applause, whoops and hollers

Stuart Miles founded Pocket-lint some 18 years ago. As well as building a leading product review website, his business can also point to a successful commerce strategy. The Alliance was delighted that Stuart could share some of his experience and tips around how to develop a successful commerce and affiliate strategy.

Here are some of the highlights from Stuart and Justin’s conversation:

  • The first decision a publisher can make is; are your readers in the market to buy a product or enlist a service. Is your content giving them some kind of buying advice?
  • There are a number of affiliate companies that offer publishers the opportunity to earn revenue for the sale of products from any number of retailers – it’s easy to set up an account. 
  • Affiliate businesses such as Sovrn Commerce and Skimlinks offer an aggregated option of these affiliate marketing businesses. Their code will help you find the best commission for your review or product page.
  • Editors and staff journalists have to think about a lot. The written content, video, images relevant links etc. If you are to employ ecommerce make it easy for your team to drop in the affiliate links. There are tools that can lighten the load for a content creator.
  • Pocket-lint have built their own widget; Squirrel which easily pulls the best prices for that product in the country the user is viewing from. It is designed to to make it easy for both editors and customers (buy/signup).
  • Affiliate revenue is through either Cost per Acquisition (CPA) or Cost per Click (CPC). Commission levels vary, but affiliate marketing companies will let you know where the highest commission can be earned.
  • View ecommerce as a value-add on to the reader: you are offering them a better place to buy – whether through price or warranty etc. 
  • Affiliates offer revenue streams from countries that you wouldn’t expect. The various services available to publishers offer both global and local retailers from which the best price can be determined.
  • Don’t think that affiliate marketing is solely for products – services can work well too. Moneysupermarket for example in finance, others in education and so much more. Affiliate can be relevant for many types of content.

Stuart then leaves the stage followed by a group of publishers looking to sign up to Squirrel

The Chatham House rules of the event preclude us from sharing some of the more juicy and eye-watering information shared during the afternoon.

There followed dozens of conversations between publishers, sharing, informing and enjoying each other’s company. Slowly and surely our publishers left to wake up the next morning and put some new ideas to the test. That’s what we learned that it’s all about; trying different ideas and testing, make alterations, test again and you either see a new developing strategy or you move on to the next.

From the Alliance, we would like once more to thank our speakers, Justin, Chris, Julian and Stuart. And also Sovrn for their support this year and Total Media for supporting this particular event.

We’re biased but this event and those both before and after are worth the small membership fee alone. Sign up here and let’s all help each other keep independent publishing thriving!

Up the Alliance!