Digital Publishing Top Stories
5 mins read

How to maximise revenue for digital content

Publishers use a plethora of platforms to widen engagement, but how can they increase profit? Mary Hogarth and Steve Hill reveal essential strategies to boost revenue.

Following the digital disruption era, one of the biggest challenges publishers face is how to monetise their digital content effectively.

Magazine brands have been trying to grow their digital revenues to counteract a decline in revenues from print. Unfortunately, in many sectors, this hasn’t materialised.  

The more forward-thinking brands have switched to distributive strategy publishing outputs on a range of new platforms. As we know, one size does not fit all. So how publishers can generate revenue from their main digital outlets?

The answer lies in maximising outputs and exploring external opportunities. These include:

  • Online publishing: this enables brands to publish their outputs via their website or an app. On the plus side, the publisher usually gets to keep all or most of the revenue generated.
  • Digital publishing platforms: that may host the magazine’s content from social media and aggregator services such as Apple News/Flipboard and sales of digital editions via platforms such as Readly.

Off-platform publishing has vast potential for the right brands as it affords substantial international exposure and can widen participation, but publishers must be prepared to compromise when it comes to costs.

For example, Joomag offers publishers a range of packages with each charging a monthly fee and takes around 30% commission if handling all the admin. Some outlets such as Apple may take up to 70% of the cover price.

However, things are changing.

Apple is now set to roll out its new subscription service in the UK later this year offering subscribers paywall news and magazines. If they opt in, publishers could get a tempting 50/50 revenue share. Added to that is Readly, which offers publishers a deal that can equate 70% of the magazine’s cover price.

For those looking for easy solutions to generating revenue, we need to point out that business models around digital publishing remain challenging.

On the positive side, online digital publishing has widened audience participation enabling magazines to reach new audiences and overseas markets. Digital technology is relatively cheap and offers readers more flexibility in terms of how and when they consume content – plus it is infinitely more environmentally friendly than paper publishing.

Our five ways to increase digital sales

  1. Be unique: Stand out from your competitors with a strong content strategy that is reader-centric with trusted, relevant articles.
  2. Keep investing in your brand: avoid the temptation to produce clickbait stories and instead focus on developing 360-degree high-quality content.
  3. Take a user-centred approach: Put the needs of your audience first and develop additional content around these. This aspect works particularly well with specialist or B2B brands.
  4. Know your user:  Pay attention to what the data is telling you and building a closer relationship with the communities your audience frequents.
  5. Widen participation: Evaluate what opportunities exist to widen participation and expand your brand. For example, the Economist launched The Economist Expresso a morning briefing for smartphones.

Case study: Readly leads the way

Readly started in Sweden, but the UK is the flagship store headed up by Ranj Begley, MD of Readly UK. Here Ranj explains why their subscription model – which boasts many high-profile names – is so successful.

Our pricing model has been quite disruptive, and at first, it was challenging to get publishers to sign up. They thought our platform would cannibalise their existing readership, but the reality is that the overlap between their subscribers and Readly users is less than 0.8%. 

We view our users as ‘entertainment junkies’, like those who use Netflix and Spotify, rather than people who would subscribe to a single monthly magazine. What users want is good value and the convenience of great content in one place. 

Real-time data is crucial as reading habits are changing. Our platform enables us to extract an extraordinary amount of data on each magazine, which publishers can then access to see who is reading their magazines and which issues get the most hits. 

For example, our recording demographic tells us that people are downloading magazines in the morning to read offline on the train during the commute to work. During the day, readers are ‘time deprived’, but they will go into our app and perhaps email interesting articles to friends and family. I have done that with recipes from Delicious Magazine that I send to my husband. 

At first, our userbase was male-dominated as they were early adopters. Now the demographic is much broader, about 50/50 split. Stats show that 40 per cent of the audiences use it every day, which is on a par with Netflix. 

More importantly, digital content has prompted something of a 50 Shades of Grey effect – widening participation. The book was a massive hit on Kindle because nobody knew you were reading it the train. On Readly, we see that men read women’s titles and vice versa. You also get older people reading younger titles and vice versa – it is changing people’s reading habits and giving the magazine brands exposure to new audiences.

Readly Analytics provides lots of data. Our stats show that people read on average 33 titles per month, per household for an average of 21 minutes at a time. We can track everything users read. For example, some of the niche titles are read for around 45 minutes. You don’t get that level of granular detail from any other system. 

Do covers matter as much on digital? Yes, it is human nature that magazine covers peak our interest. Readly can tell even what cover lines appeal to our users – often it’s a tiny cover line in the corner that is getting people to download the magazine. 

As a start-up, we had to persuade brands to give us access to their titles, however now that we have an established platform we are in a fortunate position and have publishers coming to us. Our clients realise that we can contribute to their circulation, alongside that they get a slice of our marketing spend, and they have been impressed.

From our perspective

While there are many ways to boost revenue, trusted editorial and taking a reader-centric is crucial. Evaluate what your reader wants and needs as well as how they might consume the brand, then build your editorial strategy.

Those magazines producing trusted, high-quality editorial are likely to thrive because – no matter what the medium – readers want content that is not only valuable but trustworthy.

But to fully enhance their brand’s editorial strategy, publishers must invest in developing a  360-degree content model. In the long-term, such an investment will help strengthen their editorial methodology while improving sustainability and growth.


This article is based on the eighth chapter of Mary’s latest book, Business Strategies for Magazine Publishing, published by Routledge and available from Amazon.

Download WNIP’s comprehensive new report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

Related posts