Publishers pursue non-traditional digital revenue streams

Posted on December 1, 2011

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“Diversification” was a big buzzword among publishers speaking at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo in New York. While the old-fashioned revenue generators (subscriptions and advertising) are still top of mind, new digital revenue streams are playing a larger role.

Lou Sabatier, principal at Sabatier Consulting, noted that publishers should be looking for ways to create new revenue — even in small doses. Not every revenue stream works for every publisher, but all should be considering where they can add a little extra here and there. Here are a few examples of how publishers are making big and small efforts to diversify their revenue.

Marketing services

Hanley Wood is one of a number of publishers turning to marketing services to boost revenue. The publisher surveyed marketers in the construction space about their spending budgets, discovering new marketing areas where they could capture dollars — such as creating interactive database tools or licensing content, said Paul Tourbaf, senior vice president at Hanley Wood.

Hanley basically acts as a marketing firm for three or four companies. “We’d like to do that four or five times over so we have a core base of maybe 20 customers,” Tourbaf said.

The publisher is capitalizing on the increasing demand for brands to be content providers. For instance, the publisher provides the content and facilitates the newsletters for Home Depot. They also offer a broad array of services for customers, from more traditional custom events and publishing to newer projects such as website design.

Tourbaf said media companies should offer custom services so that marketers don’t create the content themselves. Recent American Business Media research supports this: B2B publishers offering marketing services have seen more revenue growth than others, the study found. “If you don’t have the stuff in place, than what’s going to happen? They’re just going to do it themselves,” Tourbaf said.

Retail merchandise

While brands are becoming commerce companies, magazine are moving more toward commerce — using their established brands to sell more than content. Esquire is illustrating that trend to the extreme, planning to launch a retail store for men in August, according to Editor-in-Chief David Granger.

“My motivation for doing this is simple: Magazines have already done one essential thing — we’ve made people want things, whether it’s a better life or better shoes … But for the hundreds of years that magazines have been around, magazines have stopped short on delivering that desire,” Granger said. The Onion

Another one of America’s favorite print pastimes, The Onion, has many assets in its revenue mix, including e-commerce. The satirical newspaper is now distributed across platforms (video, television, mobile, books), and licensed its brand to franchises around the country.

CEO Steve Hannah said the tough advertising market amid the recession led them to seek more diversification. Having multiple revenue streams prevents them from ever getting “caught with our pants down,” relying too much on advertising again, he said.

Data

U.S. News and World Report has a 75-year-old brand that began as a print weekly, which the company shuttered last year. The brand continues to live on the Web (and soon on the iPad), and has something very valuable in the digital world: data. U.S. News & World Report

The company has been able to successfully monetize ranking guides, such as its renowned “Best Colleges” and “Best Hospitals” list. U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly said the guides promote high engagement and high click-through rates with contextually relevant advertising.

U.S. News also monetizes the content in a variety other ways: selling subscriptions, selling the data, providing lead generation, and selling marketing programs.

Kelly said they come up with a handful of different strategies to monetize every product they develop. “When we create something, we sit down and say, ‘what are the 15 different ways we can use this?,’” he said.

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