How Print Publishers Can Expand Online Revenues

Not surprisingly, print media companies have traditionally made the lion’s share of their revenue from print advertising and subscriptions. Today, many print publications are losing much of their profitable print audiences to the free content available online.

Given that online media is often harder to monetize at the same level as print, what can a publisher do? Most publishers have three major options:

  • Maximize revenues by moving current content online. At a minimum, follow your readers online. To generate online sales, think differently about content, online media’s strengths, and how these relate to your offering and target audience. Engineering News Record is a business-to-business (B2B) publication that expanded online while maintaining its offline subscriber base by offering a combined offline-online subscription.

  • Create new products and services related to existing offering. Since online advertising revenues tends to yield a lower return per reader than offline, consider new products and services to augment ad sales and subscriptions. Examine related business options. “The Wall Street Transcript” found moving content online wasn’t sufficient in itself to maintain revenues. After testing several options, it discovered helping customers produce their own conferences was more profitable.
  • Develop products and services that leverage a core strength or connection with the target audience. In some cases, migrating offline content online may require creatively thinking about your business and target market to develop new products and services to meet related needs. When Thomas Registry moved its product online, it became ThomasNet and developed a related business helping customers to create and optimize their Web sites.

Top Initiatives to Expand Content Online

When considering online expansion, examine the following major areas to aid transition (these tactics can also be used by online publications to extend offerings):

  • Content assessment, including:

    • Online competitive offerings. This is particularly important for offline publishers that may have different online competitors. Cast a wide net to include top bloggers and other forms of social media in your area of concentration.

    • Paid versus free. While offline publications may be subscription- or controlled-circulation-based, the delineation between free and paid content online isn’t necessarily clear-cut. At a minimum, some content must appear in front of the pay barrier to entice traffic and attract new readers.
    • Content format. Online media thrives on multiple content formats, including text, photographs, audio, and video. This may require differ content creation and delivery.
    • Added features. Depending on the topic and audience, online content can include enhanced features, such as consumer-generated media, which can help attract users.
    • Offline-online integration. Consider how information will appear in both off- and online formats. Content can provide additional features that take advantage of unique online capabilities, such as huge storage capacity, interactivity, searchablity, multimedia capabilities, and the like.
    • Content presentation. Given the fact online readers tend to scan information, it may be necessary to present information differently to attract readers and search engines. Short, bulleted content may be one possible solution.

  • Revenue opportunities relative to costs analysis. When moving content online, evaluate the upside potential for driving sales:
    • Subscriptions include payments for information that delivers value to readers that isn’t available from other resources.

    • Online ad revenues are driven by a large-enough reader base in targeted segments that marketers want to reach. To enhance profitability, consider how to deliver special audiences for advertisers in different formats.
    • Ancillary revenues for a wide selection of paid products can be added based on your offering.

  • Marketing initiatives. Online content requires a combination of above- and below-the-line marketing support to profitably drive traffic and engage customers:
    • Drive traffic to the online offering:

      • Leverage existing print editions. Use on-page ads and mentions to drive readers to extended offerings online. It can also be useful to feature your online calendar.

      • Use paid and organic search to be found online by users.
      • Add online tools to aid referrals, including e-mail a friend and social bookmarking.
      • Assess other online opportunities, such as paid links, advertising, and co-registration.
      • Examine other offline options, including cross-promotion from other offline properties and other forms of marketing.

    • Engage readers to purchase:
      • Build your house list. Use e-mail to expand relationships and convert prospects.

      • Use house ads. To raise awareness of offering, advertise on your Web site and other internal media.
      • Provide training. If necessary, consider offering related materials to aid customers, including online manuals and Webinars.

Measuring Your Success:

Ongoing metrics to monitor include:

  • Traffic. Look at this information on a granular basis to determine which content drives readers. Consider whether it’s due to subject matter, author, or presentation format.

  • Read customer input. Customer feedback can help uncover potential issues as well as areas of opportunities. To aid the process, request input at every customer touch point.
  • Track revenues by subproduct and sales channel. As with any business endeavor, measuring performance in terms of sales is critical. Most critically, assess whether your online offering is optimally priced to meet demand.
  • Examine expenses. While new ventures may take time to fully cover their costs, it’s important to assess the true expense of these new forms of products and services. At a minimum, consider the upfront investment, marketing costs, content creation and delivery costs, and longer-term overhead.

There’s more than one way to expand offerings online. It’s often best to create an initial version of your vision and let readers experience it. Then, use the results to gather real-world insights to improve efforts and evolve your business.

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