3 ways to improve your ROE (return on editorial)
Editorial production is changing dramatically, driven by evolving technology models, new mobile platforms and a need by most publishers to cut costs. From cloud computing to better audience-tracking metrics, publishers are exploring new ways to increase the return on their editorial investment.
Here are three ways digital content creators can improve their “ROE” (return on editorial).
1. Tie engagement to revenue
There’s no shortage of metrics available to digital publishers. What many are lacking are metrics that provide more insight into how users engage with content and how that engagement can be turned into revenue opportunities – particularly paid content.
Outsell Scout Analytics is one service designed to help companies understand the relationship between engagement and revenue. One current customer is Elsevier Business Intelligence (BI), a publisher of paid content products for the healthcare industry. The Elsevier division has 14 publications and also produces events and a variety of database products. Virtually all of its online products are fee-based, from individual articles ($25) to five-figure corporate site licenses.
The company has been piloting Outsell Scout Analytics since the summer and is now rolling out a full implementation of the solution, which combines Web metrics and consulting services. Elsevier BI is using the platform on a variety of issues. First, it used the software to identify inappropriate or unauthorized usage by subscribers – those who are sharing IDs, for instance. Elsevier is able to go back to these subscribers with alternative licensing arrangements that are “more appropriate” for their needs, said Adam Gordon, Elsevier BI’s vice president of e-strategy.
The publisher is also using Outsell Scout Analytics to find ways to increase usage among existing subscribers, particularly site license customers. “One of the things we noticed during the pilot was the power of looking at usage by different customer segments,” Gordon said. Elsevier discovered that law firms, for example, are significantly higher users of its content than users in other industry segments. “That raises the question, is our approach to pricing appropriate for these audiences?” he said.
Gordon said the annual license for the Outsell Scout Analytics service is “not insignificant,” but he expects the additional revenues it drives to more than cover the investment. “If 10-15% of our usage is unauthorized and we can convert a quarter of that into paid usage, that would exceed the investment,” he said. “Realistically, this is probably one of our largest short- and mid-term revenue opportunities. It will have significant impact on how we package and price our products.”
2. Consolidate your data
The increase in unstructured data – text, audio, video, social media content – that flows across a media company is difficult to manage and even harder to monetize. Publishers that can capture and store this information in a central repository will discover opportunities to create new products that can be repurposed to serve multiple audiences and run across Web and mobile platforms.
Products such as MarkLogic Server are designed to help publishers do just that. MarkLogic Server is what the company calls a “purpose-built database” for unstructured information. The application provides a database for storing, searching, retrieving and publishing unstructured content. It performs a variety of functions, from content delivery and aggregation to search and navigation, utilizing the content’s XML structures.
Most of MarkLogic’s media clients are in the professional/academic space. Oxford University Press, for example, has integrated all of its academic content into MarkLogic Server, from which it now generates targeted content for niche audiences – an African American study center, for example, or a dynamically generated bibliography of an author who’s in the news. “It’s all sliced from existing content,” said Matt Turner, principal media technologist for MarkLogic.
Another customer, Congressional Quarterly, has leveraged MarkLogic to quickly generate new paid content products based on pending legislation or changes to existing laws. “We essentially allow them to sell a query,” said Turner.
3. Outsource your production
In the late 1960s, newspaper publishers began realizing they didn’t need the expense of owning their own printing presses. Now, half a century later, some publishers are applying the same argument to in-house editorial production systems.
Outsourcing of back-office systems is not new, but the technology is evolving to give publishers a broader variety of options. Startups such as Superior Media Solutions (SMS) are debuting hosted services that deliver on-demand, pay-as-you-go workflow and content management solutions for a publisher’s print and digital operations.
Hosted or “software-as-a-service” solutions remove the high capital expense that companies must pay to implement and maintain in-house systems. “You don’t have to spend a half a million just to get started,” said Bill Walker, president and CEO of SMS. “You pay for what you use – per page for print, per megabyte for digital.”
SMS offers a variety of hosted production services, including content management, DAM (digital asset management), email management, analytics, and iPhone app development. The company will even take on a publisher’s internal operations staff, “re-badging” them into the SMS workforce.
SMS has formally announced one media company as a customer: Questex, a B2B publisher that has 31 print and digital properties across a variety of sectors, including hospitality and travel. Half of Questex’s publications have transitioned to the SMS service, allowing the publisher to reduce production costs by 20%, said Walker. He expects the remainder of Questex’s publications to be fully operational on the SMS platform over the next few months.