Kiplinger: An old brand ready for new platforms
Since Kiplinger launched back in the 1920s, the landscape of personal finance media has ballooned. The company now competes with a much larger mix of print and digital players delivering financial information in a variety of forms. How does the company stay relevant?
The family-owned company, run by executives rooted in journalism rather than business, has a history of providing business and personal finance news through various print and online products. They've adapted well to the new century by catering to younger audiences; the company reported huge traffic growth earlier this year.
But considering their size (more than 1 million unique visitors per month), Kiplinger's would not be considered an early adopter of new channels and technologies. It has, however, set its sights on mobile and social media in the next year, and it has hired a new head of digital business development to help. Kiplinger recently brought on Wallace Ryland, who has a background as an entrepreneur, most recently at Hyper Localized Media, LLC, where he launched the flagship product BestofNorthCarolina.com.
In a phone interview, Ryland spoke about how he hopes to help Kiplinger build new audiences interested in eating their “broccoli” ― or getting financial information. Here's an edited version of our conversation.
EMV: What is the business model at Kiplinger.com ― how do you balance subscription and advertising?
We are still looking ― like most companies ― at a mix of ad-supported content and premium content. Quite frankly, some of our products out there are worthy of premium content. That’s something we’re definitely exploring, as well as new delivery systems. [Traditionally the primary online revenue driver has been advertising, which Kiplinger has been able to boost using yield optimization platforms.]
We’ve been a traditional print company for a long time. We’ve got a digital product but we’re looking to move into mobile ― including iPads and other rich media delivery systems. Social media is going to be a very big push for us next year as we try to really stretch our demographic.
EMV: Perhaps one of the silver linings of the recession for personal finance publications has been the renewed interest in that type of information. Are you finding new audiences or hoping to find new audiences based on this quest for financial information?
We've always had a mission to digest difficult concepts down into a way where anybody can make a decision. One of the things about the Internet is you have to write in a democratic way where everyone gets it ― and we're very suited to that. We're working on a number of initiatives for the next couple of years so we can expand our demographics and deliver that kind of information so younger generations will actually have a place to go where it's written in a way where they get it.
I think there's going to be a very renewed interested in financial media over the next three, four, five, 10 years, based on what we just went through.
EMV: Kiplinger.com has a strong background in watchdog journalism about personal finance. It’s harder and harder to hold onto that model in the digital world when there's a lot of other resources out there. The financial institutions that you cover even come out with their own content and have their own websites. How does Kiplinger.com compete with that?
We're an independent arbitrator; we're not beholden to anybody. If you have a financial institution, for example, they're going to want you to invest in certain areas they care about. We have a number of financial institutions that come to us because they know we have a credible product. I don't know if we compete so much but we need to deliver content in an independent manner — we just have a brand where people come to us for that.
EMV: You mentioned mobile. Is Kiplinger doing anything in mobile yet? What are your goals?
We're exploring a number of options to enter the mobile arena in the next year. We know when you're talking about being able to deliver a newer audience, we have to deliver to people on the go. We're looking at a number of initiatives and it's going to be a combination of free and premium content.
EMV: I know you just came from a background with hyperlocal media. I'm curious if learning about that side of the business plays a role at Kiplinger.com?
I think there's going to be a play for it. When [Hyper Localized Media] launched BestofNorthCarolina.com, one of the things that we wanted to tap into was the ability to serve relevant information to people in real-time, both from a social community as well as from our editorial. And I think there is a place for that here at Kiplinger, especially as we start to expand our social media platform over the coming year, where we're going to be able to really have more in-depth conversations with our community. So, if you have somebody who's living in Texas, for example, we might want to target certain things about the real estate market in Texas or the energy market in Texas that are going to be more relevant to somebody there versus somebody who lives in West Virginia, where there are going to be opportunities to look at mining in clean coal. I think that's really going to emerge through our social community and our social media [rather than Kiplinger.com itself].
EMV: What is your priority for building digital revenue? How do you balance innovation with holding down the fort of what you already have?
I'm a big process guy. I have a very entrepreneurial background — I started a number of companies in a number of different media — print, mobile and online. I think that we have an incredible brand. Doug Harbrecht (who's our head of new media and my boss) and a number of the staff here started to create a process that's really driving traffic to and awareness of Kiplinger.com, and so that's something I'm going to want to continue to grow.
If you look around, you see The Wall Street Journal, you see Barron's, you see The Economist — they're all trying different things. It's almost like the digital group tends to be a petri dish, unlike if we want to launch a new magazine or even a new type of Letter, when there's a lot of infrastructure. We can do things kind of at the speed of thought, and if they don't work we can clean it up and change it. It gives us an opportunity to really experiment and get connected, which is what I want to do — connect with our audience and expand our audience.
This is a time when people really need information to make really good decisions about their personal finances. If we can provide the kind of information to help them make decisions, not just based on their demographics but based on what they want to know, I think we've got a real opportunity. Our job as journalists is first and foremost to provide content to our audience the way they want to see it, not just telling them how they need to read our products.
That's something that presents an opportunity for a lot of media companies. The ones that adapt to this new model are going to be very successful, and I think we're going to be one of them.