“Think beyond advertising.”
That is one of the points that I made in last week’s post about the Future of Student Media Summit, so I was interested to read a few days later that BuzzFeed — one of the darlings of the new media world—missed its 2015 revenue target by 32%.
The revenue miss certainly doesn’t spell doom for BuzzFeed, but it does highlight a troubling fact that many in the media world would prefer to ignore: The move from legacy publishing to a “digital-first” model is hardly a guaranteed way to generate more revenue.
Publishers tend to fixate on the idea of “digital” or “mobile” being the key to future financial stability because of reports showing continued increases in digital ad spending.
Unfortunately, these reports are a mirage for publishers: Most of that money goes to a handful of companies (notably, Facebook and Google) who possess far greater reach and targeting capabilities than even the most prominent publishers.
As those leading companies continue to outpace most publishers’ ability to collect data, develop new media formats, and prove results with tangible analytics, the concentration of digital ad spending will only increase.
That’s why the publishing world needs to move beyond advertising and figure out ways to monetize other core assets. Here are a few specific examples of core assets that publishers can monetize sustainably:
Media organizations have a wealth of talent in areas such as writing, photography, and design. This talent can be used for more than producing news and entertainment content — it can be leveraged to provide creative services to businesses and individuals.
Media organizations can experiment with this approach fairly easily: Make photographers available for private events; lend social media editors to local businesses that are struggling to improve their online presence; designate a designer or two for a company’s full-service website redesign.
Of course, there are ethical considerations involved with putting news staff to work for clients who may also be subjects of coverage, but there are several ways to surmount these challenges:
- Keep the creative services staff separate from the editorial staff.
- If the editorial staff performs creative services, only have them work for clients that are outside of their coverage area.
- If you focus your organization’s coverage on a particular industry or geography, only work for clients outside of that industry or geography.
We hear a lot about how data is the new currency, and legacy media organizations are sitting on a tremendous amount of data in their archives.
Media archives are unstructured data, but there are still ways to extract valuable insights and analysis from it. Here are a few ideas:
- Legislative analysis or legal research: News organizations produce a significant amount of content about legislation, as well as legal proceedings. This material could be a valuable asset for the teams of researchers and paralegals tasked with amassing information that can influence the structure of new bills and the arguments in lawsuits. Licensing out content for these purposes or prepackaging it into custom reports could be lucrative for media companies in the right markets.
- Economic research: News organizations’ prior dominance in the realm of advertising means they possess a significant amount of information about the local economies they serve. Historical advertising content could be mined for insights about pricing trends, consumer preferences, and messaging tactics. This type of information could be incredibly valuable to contemporary local businesses, as well as national firms seeking to enter local markets for the first time.
- Recreation: Trivia games. Historical crosswords. Coffee table books (h/t Ryan Frank and Andy Rossback). These might not generate substantial revenue for news organizations, but they could at least be fun to try. Why not give them a shot?
Finally, news organizations shouldn’t be afraid to capitalize on the goodwill they’ve created in their communities through years (or even decades) of commendable work.
Even in situations where you lack the time or expertise to develop a full-fledged development plan, simply communicating your organization’s value and needs can pay major dividends. For example, my student newspaper alma mater, The Cavalier Daily, has raised more than $125,000 in just two years and last week earned another $7,500 from friends and alumni who are responding enthusiastically to the newspaper’s improved articulation of its value and specific needs.
None of these ideas are silver bullets, and they certainly won’t work for every media organization. But media professionals should at least experiment with concepts such as these in the hope that they might be able to monetize something that is truly a core asset, rather than merely playing for second-place in the concentrated world of digital advertising.