Digital Publishing Reader Revenue
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“Shoot for 85% gross margins”: E-learning can be a high-value revenue source for publishers

cannon barrel

Publishers have certain natural advantages that make them suitable for the online education business. They have the content and expertise, as well as a potential customer base in their existing audiences.

Many publishers are seizing this opportunity by adding education and training in their business models to build a diversified revenue stream.  

“Facilitates an even closer relationship with our audience”

HBR offers self-paced learning programs for business professionals on its website. The Economist offers a wide range of courses from leadership to data science to productivity at And recently, BBC Good Food, the UK’s biggest food media brand, announced that it will be delivering online cookery classes from the 1st of July. It has partnered with EdTech startup Learning with Experts to do so.

The publisher will be offering two courses taught by BBC Good Food’s senior food editors. One of them is ‘Essential skills for home cooks’ which will include cooking with seafood, baking, knife skills and making spice mixes. The other will be a deep dive into ‘Making sourdough at home’. The courses are available as a package for £49 and individually for £29.

People feel safe in secure online community groups, learning from established brands and experts they know and trust.  As the UK’s best-selling food media brand, BBC Good Food is perfectly placed to offer teaching expertise through our award-winning digital formats.

Elspeth Briscoe, Founder & CEO at Learning with Experts

According to Christine Hayes, Editor in Chief, BBC Good Food, “For 30 years we’ve been showing Britain how to cook, making it easy to create good food every day. This partnership facilitates an even closer relationship with our audience, allowing food enthusiasts across the world access to our knowledgeable, approachable food editors and the opportunity to interact and learn in a virtual classroom.”

A $325B market by 2025

How well this initiative performs in terms of driving revenues to the publisher will be the subject of a future discussion. But the fact is online education offers lucrative opportunities for publishers. According to the market research firm Research and Markets, the global e-learning market is projected to grow to $325bn by 2025.

The publishers mentioned above are among the most reputed global brands and HBR is already connected with the education sphere. But there are several relatively lesser known brands as well, that have made successful forays into the education business. Their strategies can be replicated by others looking for additional revenue streams.

Key to future revenue

Among them is Condé Nast’s Golf Digest which offers $9.99/month, $99/year subscriptions for access to its golf tips videos. The publisher told Folio that these paid videos will be key to future revenue.

Golf tips videos have always been a mainstay at but after paid subscriptions were introduced last year, the publisher has been looking into enhancing the experience for its consumers.

For example, in one of its video series, “Undercover Lessons,” users can drop into practice sessions with a pro or observe interactions between the golfer and their coach. Golf Digest’s General Manager, Chris Reynolds said, “Seeing practice at that level is something no one has ever seen before.”

The magazine is also using drones, new camera angles, and editing styles to make the videos more interesting. “We realized this can’t just be a talking head and standup tips and talk about tips. There has to be an entertainment factor,” commented Reynolds.

Expanding beyond instruction

Though the publisher did not share figures, according to Reynolds, “With every little investment we are making, we are very happy with the returns so far.” He added, “We feel subscriptions will be important, and we see a future where it expands beyond instruction. We see an opportunity to play in the equipment space and even in the [golf] course travel space.”

Taking instructional content into certification territory is B2B publisher Praetorian Digital. It provides local government agencies that look after public safety, with certifications and continuing or refresher education programs. The publisher offers over 1,000 hours of courses across its fire, rescue, EMT and government verticals.

Potential for substantial growth

Bob Bradley, Senior VP at Praetorian told Folio that their digital courses are seeing 40 to 50% growth.

The publisher creates the courses in-house according to first responders’ needs and professional lives. They are usually hour-long and contain a mix of articles, videos, slides, and quizzes.

The courses are mobile friendly and can be paused and continued across different screens. This is important because one never knows when a first responder, say a firefighter, may need to stop a program halfway to respond to an emergency.

According to Bradley, there is room for substantial growth because only 20% of the municipalities have embraced online learning. He also said that digital-only e-learning businesses have high profitability potential. “All SaaS businesses try to shoot for 85% gross margins,” he concluded.