Start stacking dimes!

As periodical publishers are moving toward offering digital distribution of content, we’re discovering that a financial model that works for print often falls short in the virtual world. Online advertising doesn’t bring in the same level of revenue as print, and readers are resistant to the idea of paying for content. So when analog dollars turn into digital dimes, what’s a publisher to do? Start stacking dimes!

That’s the advice of Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton. In an interview with the industry journal News & Tech he said, “If a digital ad is worth a dime, then find a cost-effective way to get those dimes. Look at it this way: Adobe spent millions of dollars to develop Flash and Acrobat, but they give those apps away for free, because free is the market. We have a similar situation. If the audience you have is only worth dimes, then you have to find a cost-effective way to create and deliver content to that audience.”

If an audience won’t pay for content, then it’s up to advertisers to pay for the audience. And while many publishers have implemented some basic website advertising, there’s a lot of unexplored potential “beyond the banner.” The web offers the ability to slice and dice your audience to meet the interests of various advertisers, as well as unparalleled tracking of response rates, so there are plenty of revenue opportunities for publishers to explore. Here are a few:

E-mail update

Use a “Sign up for free e-mail upates” link on your website to create an opt-in e-mail list. This can be a valuable asset. It’s a great way to share new content on your website, new developments in whatever area your publication covers (your organization, denomination, type of ministry, targeted demographic group, etc.), and items that aren’t long enough to merit their own story. Don’t overuse the list, or reader fatigue will set in. Instead, reach out to your list every few days. And there’s no need to send a lengthy piece by e-mail – send some well-written teaser copy and a link to your website. Keep the content short and valuable, and you’ll wind up with high “open” rates from readers, and that makes your e-mail updates valuable for advertisers. Two or three useful tidbits followed by a clearly marked ad is a nice approach.

Text alerts

More than one-third of Americans currently use a “smartphone,” and by 2015 that’s expected to grow to 50 percent. This means that text messages with links to your content are a convenient way to connect with mobile users in your audience – and that’s a service that can be sponsored. Let readers opt-in to mobile text alerts on your website by providing their cell phone numbers, and use the resulting list to send links to fresh content on your website, or to point them to carefully curated content elsewhere on the web that will interest them. A simple “Text alert sponsored by…” line with a link to a sponsor’s website is a trackable resource that you can sell.

Partner tweets

If your advertisers are using Twitter, a simple Twitter widget on your website can help bring their tweets to your readers. Establish a cost-per-thousand (CPM) for website impressions, and divide that among sponsors who you “follow” with your widget. Aggregating those tweets on your website provides value for your readers, and is a shot in the arm for sponsors who are experimenting with Twitter but need help attracting an audience.

Partner fan pages

If your publication has a Facebook page, one of your goals is to connect with your readers using the world’s most popular social media platform. But you can also use your Facebook page to help your sponsors connect with your Facebook fans, and it’s almost automatic. If you’re an administrator for your corporate site, just choose the “Use Facebook as…” option on your company’s profile page to take on your corporate identity. Once you’re browsing Facebook as your corporate self rather than as your individual self, visit sponsor pages and “like” them. As a result, a link will show up in the left-hand column of your publication’s Facebook profile. If you “like” more pages than will easily fit, Facebook will automatically rotate them with each page refresh. Use Facebook’s “page insights” tool to track your traffic, then divide by your number of “liked” pages to determine the number of impressions for each sponsor.

Sponsored features and sections

In the same way that you can run a  special advertising section in a printed periodical, you can have special sponsored features or sections as part of your publication’s website. For instance, a daily devotional feature could have a sponsor, with different ads for the sponsor appearing each day. Or a “choosing a Christian college” section could combine editorial content and significant advertising from schools.

Microsites

More than a featured section, a microsite is an entirely sponsored page or pages (up to about a half-dozen). It’s the digital equivalent of a newspaper insert. The main landing page of a microsite may even have its own name or subdomain (like “sponsorname.yourdomain.net”). An organization might ask you to build a ‘microsite” for them within your site — perhaps containing themed copy or a contest that ties in with their product or services. The sponsor might provide the copy as well (in which case you’d want to be sure to label the pages as paid advertising). While a microsite is really content from a sponsor, having it on your publication’s site provides both credibility and traffic. Because the microsite is self-contained (beyond links to it from your main site), you can easily remove the whole thing once the campaign is over. And if it has it’s own subdomain, the sponsor can link to it directly.

Sister sites

A step beyond the microsite is the sister site – an independent website that you develop around an audience interest or type of content. Does your publication review movies? Why not create an independent movie review site that shares your branding while having an identity of its own? Do you offer devotional content in your publication? Then how about creating a daily devotional site which offers fresh content each day, plus a searchable archive of past devotionals? Is there some kind of content available to you where supply greatly outstrips available space in your print product? Then it may be time to create a website devoted to that content. Once the basic framework is in place, running sister sites is largely a question of creating and posting fresh content. And each new site brings new revenue opportunities, and new ways to target a specific segment of your audience. With no printing or postage costs, building a family of related websites offers an opportunity to get on the right side of web economics, greatly expanding revenue opportunities for comparatively little cost.

Start stacking dimes

The Internet age presents both challenges and opportunities for publishers. The one thing that’s certain in this quickly changing landscape is that yesterday’s model is gone. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When the Internet gives you dimes, it’s time to start stacking dimes!