Beating to the rhythm of Modern Drummer

How this dedicated magazine is leveraging their archive and social following to grow their business

Sep 29, 2017 · 7 min read

Bringing fans “the latest and greatest” for over 40 years, the world’s most widely read drum magazine has flipped the way they sell subscriptions, and they’re better for it.

At the first edition of WordCamp for Publishers earlier this year, we met Peter Ericson, founder of WordPress agency ZEEN101. He connected us with Miguel Monroy at the US magazine Modern Drummer, who has been working with Peter on their site.

Miguel’s mission

Miguel is Business and Content Development Lead at Modern Drummer, and he tells me at least half of his job is coming up with new ways to monetize products and services outside of their traditional print magazine:

Miguel Monroy

When Miguel joined the magazine in April 2015, he quickly saw he needed to make sure revenue wasn’t coming from just one source. Print advertisers were starting to pull out and he had to come up with other ways to generate revenue. Miguel’s most important job is to make sure they don’t put all their eggs in one basket.

All the baskets

Currently, Modern Drummer runs ads and sponsored content on their website, through apps and on their social channels. Modern Drummer has over 430k people following their Facebook page. Their Instagram account has 149k followers and Twitter has gathered 75K followers. Miguel talks about some new advertising options they have set up through these channels:

Recently, many publishers have been investing heavily in video and some even chose to go all-in, laying off writers in the process. Miguel wouldn’t want to pivot to video entirely but does agree that video content is a big deal and people want to experience it more:

Educational articles on Modern Drummer

A true experience

Offering that experience to absolutely anyone who loves drumming and drummers has been a life changer for the magazine. Modern Drummer has introduced a metered version of a paywall last February, whereas before they had a ‘full’ one. Since then, they have seen their monthly organic traffic to the website grow about 20%:

Photo shoots and interviews for the magazine

The metered paywall, referred to by Miguel as the Leaky Paywall solution, has totally changed the way Modern Drummer sells subscriptions and it’s very much to his liking:

For this to work, it’s important to not put anything between the reader and the content. Miguel tells me that before they switched to the paywall, Modern Drummer had an ad that would pop up and cover your entire screen. It made him furious:

And it did go. Choosing the metered paywall approach changed their relationship with ads altogether:

Miguel mentions that growing your fan base on social is hard, especially when you don’t want to pay money. Fortunately, Modern Drummer nowadays gets about 75% of their follower growth organically, due to people enjoying their content and sharing it with their friends. Miguel tells me a small percentage is done by paying to target people in their industry.

Another important driver to get people to interact with content is Modern Drummer’s newsletter. Currently, they have around 80k people signed up. The newsletter gets sent out once a month with ‘all you need to know articles’ about drum shells, cymbals, heads — “basically things every drummer can benefit from”.

Making it work

In order to up the chances of people coming across three articles which will persuade them to sign up, Modern Drummer invests greatly in utilising the huge archive of content created over the last four decades:

“We have a person on staff and part of what he does is going through the very old articles. He’s making sure each article from every issue is available individually and responsive on our website and apps. It’s a huge amount of work, but every time we publish an old or new article, they can be indexed by Google and become searchable.

Website variety with each issue

Each article remains connected to an issue, with its own unique aesthetic design, Miguel tells me as we’re looking at the website:

Part of what makes working with issues, old and new, so rewarding is the evergreen nature of Modern Drummer’s content. Many pieces will be just as relevant today as it was to people many years ago. People tend to form big attachments to people they write about. This inspired Miguel to start working on so called ‘artists packs’:

Beautiful things take time

Working hard on both the business and content side, I ask Miguel which is the most challenging when taking the business forward:

Print surprise

Miguel makes sure that before we end our conversation I take note of what has been the most surprising realization over the last couple of months — print is far from dead for Modern Drummer:

Print is still going strong

Final thoughts

When you explore the web, you can’t escape the feeling that shallow sensationalism has become the norm for much of our digital ecosystem.

Great publishers like the Modern Drummer show that content quality and overall user experience not only still matters, but could turn out to be the key in shaping a sustainable media business. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’ll always be a place for publishers nailing a vertical by putting their readership first. This includes doing “bad-ass things”, of course.

Originally published at

The Graph

Smart thoughts on the future of digital publishing

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store