Digital Marketing

Paid Content Strategies With Peter Houston – Editor at Large, TheMediaBriefing

Paid Content Strategies With Peter Houston – Editor at Large, TheMediaBriefing recently published their “Europe’s successful paid content strategies” report where they examined the factors in successful paid-content strategies, delivering in-depth analysis and insight drawn from interviews with senior executives at leading European publishers, including looks at:

  • The key pillars of successful paid-content strategies
  • The content formats and platforms that are delivering best
  • The secrets to marketing paid content
  • How to overcome organizational challenges

Peter Houston (Editor at Large, TheMediaBriefing) was kind enough to share more details about the report as well as his views on the print industry and the opportunities that digital publishers have nowadays by employing a multi-channel strategy.

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You’ve been with TheMediaBriefing since 2015, but what can you tell us about the early days of your career?

I’ve written for TheMediaBriefing longer, but became Editor at Large in 2023. I’ve worked in publishing for 30 years, latterly in training, content strategy, resource management, staff motivation and skills development to facilitate the print-digital transition. I first crossed the digital divide back in 1993, working on a CD-ROM series and first-generation websites with Global Sources in Hong Kong.

I also run Flipping Pages Media, providing consulting and training for media and marketing businesses making the transition from legacy print to multi-platform publishing. Recent projects have focused on off-platform publishing, paid content strategies and organizational change.

I often write and speak about the challenges facing modern media. I have presented at Google’s Think Publishing conference, led Guardian Masterclasses and delivered training for companies and associations. I’m a judge for the Digital Magazine Awards and the British Media Awards and I write a monthly column for Publishing Executive in Philadelphia.

What are the topics that is covering?

We mix original analysis, insight and reporting on global media industry trends, challenges and opportunities.

We cover all issues relating to the business of media including: (1) How publishing is changing: Across newspapers, consumer magazines, B2B media, online-only publishing and events; (2) The digital content economy: How can publishers build a balanced business model including user payments and advertising? (3) Advertising challenges: From real-time bidding to content marketing. (4) The mobile future: How the growth of smartphones and tablets affects all media.

The Media Briefing also runs the Digital Media Strategies conferences in London and New York that between them attract more than 1,000 delegates from around the world.

How do you acquire visitors/readers/customers and how do you monetize?

Most of our users are from UK & US and besides the organic traffic we get via Google, we’re also seeing a lot of traffic coming from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

David Carey, President of Hearst Magazines, says to be successful a publisher needs five or six revenue streams. Our mix comes from conference delegates and a variety of sponsored content opportunities.

In terms of monetization, my main concern is sponsored content. For example, the “Europe’s successful paid content strategies” report is sponsored this year by CeleraOne. We’re strong believers in native advertising and mixing it with different other channels.

What are some of the key takeaways from the report you’ve published?

For the “Europe’s successful paid content strategies” report we interviewed executives from the leading European players involved in the implementation of successful paid content strategies.

The brightest beacons for paid content are generally perceived to be American. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and latterly the Washington Post, dominate discussion on how to do paid content right. Leading UK publishers sometimes get an honorable mention, but few media houses on the continent receive any coverage outside their own borders.

We wanted to redress that imbalance by putting together a report that introduces some of the leading European players in the paid content arena, and some interesting new-comers.

We found that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for achieving success in paid content. Conversion from free to paid readership lies at the core of most paid content strategies. Even for publications with content that is normally locked up tight, teasing readers with free access or nominal-cost trials has become a major marketing strategy.

Subscription marketing is no longer just a numbers game, data is enabling publishers to identify content that converts. They are now looking hard at what type of content engages audiences deeply enough to get them to pay, or at least register, spending as much time analysing and planning free-article promotions as they once spent counting page views and unique visitors.

Reach is still important, with marketers targeting established print audiences and visitors to their free web pages as prime prospects. They are also looking to social media to build and engage new audiences. Social sharing is used to deliver trial access to paid content, but publishers are working hard to make it clear that access is compliments of someone who paid, not free.

Print readers remain a prime starting point and print-digital bundles are ubiquitous. Interest is building in week-splitting combination deals-subscribers get digital on weekdays when they are travelling to and from work, and a more leisurely print experience at the weekends.

Communities are also key to paid content sales. These are being nurtured around publishing brands through regular, habit-forming, consumption of content. Email newsletters are playing an increasingly important part of the relationship-building process, tapping niche interests to boost engagement.

The shift away from ad-supported to paid content publishing models has brought change within the organization. The focus on value over volume in digital content has re-emphasized the importance of the role of content creators. But it also forced editors and journalists to reorganize around “always on” digital schedules, to abandon the pre-eminence of print and to engage with the commercial propositions being built around their digital content.

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We talked mostly about digital publishing, but what about print? Is print dead?

I think print has a strong future, but it will be very different from the past. Niche print products that sit within a broad digital portfolio with do well. Also high-quality print, with great production values. Digital companies are already seeing this – a few years back Google commissioned The Church of London agency to make a very exclusive, high-value publication for 2,000 global CEOs. They recognised that print can still get attention.

What are your plans for 2023? What are your current challenges? How are you planning on overcoming them?

My big focus for 2023 is to get TheMediaBriefing’s content, and some of my own content, onto some new platforms. We recently launched a weekly podcast for TheMediaBriefing and I’d like to do some video.

We’re also working to expand out reports business – I’d love to be producing one every month by the end of the year.

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