Media companies are experimenting with strategies to make money beyond traditional advertising and paid content, either to supplement existing business models or find new ones entirely. Here are five innovative ways publishers are digging for new digital revenue streams.
Selling content a la carte rather than packaged into a full publication — the iTunes model applied to journalism — is emerging as a new way to sell magazine and news content. Nieman Journalism Lab
calls the “singles model” a way to “circumvent traditional constraints on publishing.”
is one media company that's experimenting with how publishers can successfully break out of the bundle. The news organization recently published an article as a Kindle Single
, which is generally narrative writing longer than most magazine articles but shorter than a book. The platform to sell content is another sign of the renaissance for narrative, long-form journalism
The first ProPublica Kindle Single (a 13,000-word expose about Pakistan) sold 1,900 sales for 99 cents a piece (the publisher keeps 70 percent) and has been a regular in the top 10 of Kindle Singles bestsellers, according to Nieman Lab. ProPublica's General Manager Richard Tofel said the Single is an experiment in building new audiences. While the modest revenue won't float ProPublica's business boat, it does represent a previously untapped revenue stream.
Selling merchandise is gaining favor among some media companies, either as a way to add incremental revenue or as a core part of the business. In the latter category, enthusiast publishers such as F+W
use editorial to drive product sales. F+W has dramatically shifted its business to focus on commerce
is another example of successfully implementing a commerce strategy. The publisher diversified its revenue, with e-commerce making up a substantial chunk, according to 2009 numbers. The Knot has become a full-blown retailer, fulfilling orders for wedding supplies such as engraved invitations. Additionally, the company teams up with other retailers for a bridal registry product, where the publisher takes a cut of all transactions.
Teaming up with other vendors is one way to dip into commerce for publishers not ready to launch a full-blown operation themselves. TechMediaNetwork
developed affiliate relationships with vendors and receives a share when a consumer purchases a product after reading a review. Digital coupons
are another growing way for publishers to incorporate commerce and take a cut of the sales.
But the blurring of content and commerce
isn't always smooth. A New York Times executive said at a conference last fall that it was tricky to try to sell movie tickets in movie reviews. Publishers are still looking for the balance of commerce in their business model, but it's clear incorporation of commerce will be a vital part of the business model going foward.
The new era of custom publishing
is another example of the changing roles of media companies, beyond being strictly editorially driven.
In the last few years, UBM TechWeb remodeled its business
to make B2B
marketing services a central part of its business. While the company still offers traditional marketing services such as advertising, it has also created ongoing relationships with customers to manage branded websites and communities.
In some cases advertisers are beginning to request custom content that is editorially driven ― which might sound kind of contradictory. Here's the idea: A single advertiser will back content about a specific topic for a specific audience but still want content maintaining editorial independence and therefore consumer trust. Studio One Networks
, a content syndication company, uses this model by producing editorially independent content in a specific niche requested by the sponsor.
Like commerce, publishers are still experimenting with how to lasso the opportunity to create content for brands that is either strictly marketing or a new kind of editorial product.
Value in archives
Publishers that have been around for a while have an opportunity to turn their dusty archives into memorabilia, and many are doing just that. The Chicago Sun-Times
sold its entire archive of photos last year to an enthusiast. That's not a good example of creating more incremental revenue through a digital storefront, but it shows the willingness for people to pay for "old" content.
A service called Image Fortress
works with publishers like The Chicago Tribune, powering archiving and monetization services
to preserve and sell photo archives. It's a step in the right direction for publishers to start profiting off of their legacy, rather than letting it weigh them down.
The New York Times' Michael Zimbalist said at paidContent Mobile last year that archives have "information shadows
" publishers could be compensated for. "It is entirely possible that there will be new sources of value unlocked from content archives, which will be become part of the business model that will sustain content businesses in mobile channels,” he said.
New ad formats
It might be ironic to talk about advertising as an innovative digital revenue strategy, but there's still life in the online ad model. Creative advertising formats
offer new opportunities for publishers to sell advertising in new places.
For instance, companies such as Solve Media
offer ads in the CAPTCHA security tests many publishers use to authenticate users.
Social media is another new venue where publishers are finding new advertising opportunities. Minnpost.com's Real Time Ads
pull in messages from an advertiser's social media accounts into a widget. As of November, the publisher had approximately $15,000 in annual contracts using real-time ads, according to Mashable.
These are only a few of the new tactics (some of which are a spin on the old tactics) publishers are using to try to build additional revenue, even if it's just a little bit here and there. What other strategies work for publishers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.