Digital Publishing Reader Revenue
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Publishers: Data strategy is central to success in subscriptions and ads

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Whether publishers focus on reader revenue or digital advertising income, data strategy underpins success

Revenue diversification efforts have seen many media organisations add subscriptions and memberships to their advertising sales efforts. But whatever the business model, publishers were advised to underpin their decision making with a strong data strategy at a recent conference organised by the UK’s Society of Editors.


  • The Future of News conference, held earlier in May, featured discussions ranging from journalistic issues around coverage of the Ukraine war, climate change and diversity and inclusion to more commercial concerns about engaging new audiences and making content pay.
  • Speaking at the opening of the conference, BBC news presenter Ros Atkins – well known for his viral news explainer videos – talked about the need for media innovation. He said:

When we think about the need to innovate, reimagine, to restructure what we do, it’s not because change is fun, creative or exciting. Of course, it can be all of those things. But for me, this feels like a necessity.

  • A panel discussion later in the day, featuring representatives of several leading newspaper groups, focused on data strategy as part of the innovation process.

Data-led decisions

  • Branded content campaigns were identified as an opportunity to generate revenue at the same time as promoting editorial strengths. But, as always, editorial team must think carefully about how to approach commercial partnerships.
  • Regional news group Reach highlighted the opportunities in local communities. Titles like the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo have partnered with the UK’s National Lottery to create local news stories about how lottery funding has supported local communities.
  • Head of invention at Reach, Becky Clay, explained that page views are not the only metric used to judge success. Her teams use sentiment analysis tools to understand what readers care about and focus commercial conversations. This ensures campaigns work for both sides, improving the chances that advertisers renew deals.

Audience motivations

  • The London Evening Standard, distributed free in the city, is using virtual events to secure additional sponsorship revenue. The paper uses its insights team to analyse site data to identify and understand topics that audiences are most interested in and to provide data to potential sponsors.
  • As interest in virtual events wanes post pandemic the paper plans to switch to real-world events. The data team meets with editors to ‘brainstorm’ ideas that will work for readers across print, digital and live events.
  • The Guardian has created a ‘reader revenue executive editor’ role to help understand and deliver on readers’ editorial priorities. The paper has ‘bust assumptions’ that people donate to support its political stance, focusing instead on the idea that typical contributors are more motivated by the thought of keeping its journalism free and open.
  • That messaging is front and centre in The Guardian’s donor marketing, from placing call-to-action boxes at the end of every article online to supporters’ newsletters designed to keep paying contributors engaged.

Media organisations across the publishing sector are keen to make content pay regardless of whether they rely on reader or advertiser support. The discussion throughout this panel places data strategy at the centre of editorial and commercial decision making.

This piece was originally published in Spiny Trends and is re-published with permission. Spiny Trends is a division of, a content analytics and revenue generation platform for digital publishers. For weekly updates and analysis on the industry news you need as a media and publishing business, subscribe to Spiny’s Trends weekly email roundup here.