A Tale of Two Publishers

  |  April 8, 2011   |  Comments

Learn from two very different publishers with very different results: The Daily and The Huffington Post.

It is the best of times and the worst of times for some businesses. Many look at the world and see the opportunities of being data rich, customer centric, and nimble while others imagine they can bring their old school thinking to the new media, always-on connected customer. They sit cross-fingered hoping that putting lipstick on their pig will improve their results. Let's explore two publishers making news recently and learn how one is failing while the other has become quite successful. We will learn from this comparison no matter what type of business we are in.

I love to consume and share content on my iPad. Ask any of the nearly 20-plus million people who have one and I am pretty sure they'll respond the same way. So you figure when a publishing powerhouse invests an initial $30 million dollars and another $500,000 an issue into an iPad-only publication, how could it go wrong? Well, not all the numbers for The Daily have been revealed (for that you would have to speak to Rupert Murdoch or his Daily staff), but based on recent data and calculations, the results are not very promising. It has been estimated that the app had been downloaded 500,000 times and that 75,000 people have become "regular users" of the app, at least during the extended free trial period. Nevertheless, the tweets per day from the app are on the decline.

If I had to explain to Mr. Murdoch and his team why their paid subscriber to application download conversion rate is so low, I would tell them that while their content is beautiful, the experience of consuming it was painful and slow. People want speed, freshness, and variety. It's painful to watch all these little boxes on screen while my issue was being delivered and to watch my beard grow as thumbnails of pages loaded. Mr. Murdoch, your publication is obese and crippled. What has been your experience with The Daily? How would you fix it at this point?

By now I am sure you have heard about the acquisition of The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million and all the change that has followed that acquisition. The Huffington Post's news, analysis, and lifestyle website was founded in 2005, which now counts nearly 25 million unique monthly visitors and boasts an affluent, influential audience that is growing at a rate of 22 percent.

You may have heard how The Huffington Post uses real-time testing to write better headlines. Or maybe you heard The Huffington Post's CTO Paul Berry speak about its Google Analytics deployment and how it uses it:

When the HuffPost publishes a front-page Quick Read or other feature story, Berry and his team can use Analytics to quickly gauge traffic spikes and update the content in minutes to drive the publication's editorial direction. The editorial calendar stored on Google Calendar is then updated accordingly, giving staff easy access to any changes even if they are on the road. "Overnight, we can shape our feature stories or Quick Read columns and share any changes with everyone on staff to create more targeted, relevant content and attract more viewers." says Berry.

As important as these data-driven pieces are to the formula, it was only recently when I heard The Huffington Post's CFO Eric Ashman deliver the Web Analytics Association Gala Awards dinner keynote that I realized how hard-core, data-centric, real-time-enabling, and customer-focused their business was as he spoke about the primary drivers of The Huffington Post business model.


He spoke about the critical importance of having the right reporting structure in place with web analytics data including real-time stats as they relate to the "product" and marketing stats as they impact sales and marketing flowing directly to the office of the CFO and the board of directors. My brother and I have been advocating that for a reporting system to be meaningful, every piece of data must flow into the financial statements since 2001. Eric, as I do, believes "traffic analytics are as core to strategic planning, decision making and building shareholder value as financial statements."

Several other critical success factors he shared included:

  • Getting the technology team support and the importance of being nimble.
  • Getting real-time data in the hands of people who can react quickly.
  • Starting simple and building from there.

Mr. Murdoch, I truly wish you could have been there to learn.

Do you agree that we can learn from these two very different publishers?

Create relevant and delightful experiences people want to share. Speed up your site, speed up your corporate metabolism, enable everyone to make decisions based on data, and execute rapidly; that is going to be a winning formula for the next several years. Will you be able to keep up?

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.

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