Digital Publishing Guest Columns
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Opinion: Capture digital revenues with the right monetization mix

Many publishers today struggle with how to sell and value the numerous advertising opportunities provided by their digital editions. While publishers know they need to embrace a multi-faceted revenue approach, there is no playbook for finding just the right mix of monetization strategies. Sponsorships, paywalls, content channels, and mobile ads are a few of the strategies that should be considered as part of this mix to help publishers capture digital revenues.

Sponsorship

Your digital edition advertising strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. Instead of selling multiple units to multiple advertisers, a digital edition sponsorship program allows you to sell a single advertising package made up of several highly visible ad units to a single sponsor. These packaged units can span across the tech you support. This simplifies the selling process for the publisher and maximizes the advertising value for the sponsor. Moreover, while readers have the capacity to appreciate the need for advertising, recent history has shown that they clearly value a clean and unobstructed content experience.

Some of the key units that can make up your digital edition sponsorship package include:

  • Full page replica ads – a replica digital edition looks just like your print but can easily include additional digital-only ads.  Typical units include 1) the presentation page, a full-page ad that sits to the left of your front cover, and 2) an interstitial page, a full-page ad that will take over the screen when the reader hits a particular page of your content.  Interstitial pages are best placed early in the digital edition or in association with key content.
  • Responsive native ads – native units can look just like any responsive content with unlimited text, images, and videos.  Because designed full-page print ads do not work as well in mobile or responsive views, these are an important part of any sponsorship package. 
  • Interface ads – your digital edition more than likely offers interface ad opportunities that are persistent across the replica and responsive views of your content. A couple examples include 1) menu ads that can highlight your digital sponsor and link to their website or 2) ticker/banner ads that offer a clickable image or text at the bottom of the digital reading experience.
  • Email ads – an email campaign is another attractive (and sometimes overlooked) sponsorship unit that can be included in your digital sponsorship package.

Many publishers start out doing nothing to monetize their digital initiatives, but a sponsorship program is the easiest way to start placing a value on this important content experience. It offers the cleanest monetized reading experience and can turn your digital edition from being a cost center to a cost neutral or positive activity.

Paywall

Paywalls are quickly re-emerging as a viable alternative to a strictly ad-reliant revenue model. In fact, subscription was identified as a main priority this year for 52% of publishers surveyed in the Reuters Institute and Oxford University Journalism, Media and Technology Trends report.

Readers are craving quality, trustworthy content.  In recognition, an increasing number of publishers are charging readers for access to some or all of their content.  And thanks to the current subscription economy (see Netflix and Spotify), consumers are showing a willingness to pay. 

The New York Times (NYT), which announced earlier this year digital revenues of $709 million in 2018, is one example of a successful subscription model. The Financial Times (FT) is another. The FT is making more revenue from digital sources than from print and is earning more revenue from readers than from advertising. And, digital subscriptions make up approximately three-quarters of both the FT and New York Times subscriber base.

Paywalls are a great way to place a very direct value on your content and, in the process, provide that clean and unobstructed reading experience.  It also gives you an immediate revenue stream.  If you are not quite ready to charge for your content, you should strongly consider adding a registration requirement to obtain critical information about your readers, including email addresses, that you can leverage and monetize in the future.

Content Channel

A content channel can be a great source of additional revenue that provides advertisers with an opportunity to be part of themed editorial content. These channels are simply a collection of content (articles, special offers, how-to information, ask-the-expert videos) which you can create and publish at your own frequency or simply pull from your evergreen content.

Using this monetization strategy, you can also charge sponsors or advertisers (between 8 and 10 sponsors is usually a good number) an annual fee to be part of a Product Pavilion, Service Pavilion, or Ask-the-Expert YouTube Channel. For this strategy to be successful, it is important to promote this resource to your readers and encourage sponsors to provide compelling content and offers to add value to your edition and brand.

Sponsor pavilions can be successful in all types of content, including niche publications.  For example, regional titles can offer pavilions with local information and offers like area attractions or restaurants, while business publications can offer pavilions focused on specialized equipment or professional services. 

Mobile

Today’s reader expects the delivery of device-appropriate content. A strong mobile, digital presence is a necessity to grow loyal readership in part because it makes your brand always available to readers from both an access and consumption standpoint.  This means that mobile optimized content is no longer ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ if you want to stay in front of your readers.

This demand for mobile optimized content makes monetizing the responsive mobile experience through ads a key part of any revenue mix for publishers.

With mobile in mind, publishers need to factor in that many ads are not easily converted to a responsive view and should be designed for the mobile experience. Remember too that less is more when it comes to ads in the mobile responsive view. Too many adds can harm the reader experience and deter engagement.

The trend toward content consumption on the small screen – currently 70% of internet access is through mobile phones – provides a great opportunity to take a fresh look at your monetization strategy. Consider leveraging mobile to add revenue generators like native ad experiences that look and behave like a standard article, ads embedded in articles as an image, and sponsor links in your digital edition menu.

Publishers are searching for ways to continue building relationships with readers and successfully monetize on these relationships. With the right mix of monetization strategies including sponsorships, paywalls, content channels and mobile ads, you can drive profitability and growth through your digital editions.

Paul Hart, CEO, BlueToad

Paul DeHart is Co-owner and Chief Executive Officer of BlueToad, Inc. In 2007, he and a group of partners launched BlueToad.  BlueToad has grown over the years into one of the leading distributors of digital content, with more than a billion page views a year and has helped thousands of content creators build audience relationships around the globe.

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