3 in 4 publishers have responded to the pandemic with new content products, “from brand-building to securing a lucrative new revenue stream”

3 in 4 publishers have responded to the pandemic

Nearly 3 in 4 publishers say they have created new content products in response to COVID-19, according to a survey by BRAND United and Publishing Executive. These include new e-newsletters, podcasts, peer groups, and other digital resources that would be useful to their readers during the pandemic.

The survey was conducted at the end of May and included responses from 216 respondents representing a mix of B2B, consumer, association, and regional publishers. Its findings are available in Product Innovation in the Publishing Industry During the Pandemic and Beyond, a free report from BRAND United.

“The audience is potentially limitless”

Examples shared in the report include that of B2B publisher HousingWire, which has been organizing virtual software demo days to educate its audience of mortgage lenders and real estate professionals. These virtual events focus on technology solutions that enable business continuity during the pandemic.

We looked at the environment, we looked at what our clients were looking for, we looked at the needs of our audience, and were able to bring together a product that we’re going to repeat again and again and again that solves a lot for those needs on both sides of the equation.

Clayton Collins, CEO, HousingWire

According to a recent FIPP report, many publishers quickly pivoted online when the pandemic forced them to cancel or postpone live events. “New opportunities from brand-building to securing a lucrative new revenue stream can and do emerge for publishers navigating the new virtual world,” the report suggests.

For example, Cherry Bombe, the female-focused food magazine expected 700 paying attendees at its in-person Jubilee event in New York. It reached 180,300 users on Instagram when it streamed the event via Instagram Live.

TechCrunch tied Extra Crunch Live – it’s series of investor Q&As – to a paid membership and has seen huge growth, writes Sadie Hale, author of the FIPP report, Virtual events: How to thrive in the new normal.

“The audience is potentially limitless,” she adds. NYT Live has had more than 250,000 attendees from 110 different countries. FT Live drew 5,500 attendees to its four-day FT Digital Dialogues digital event in April 2020. And FT Global Boardroom, a fully live, global digital event, had 100 remote speakers and 52,000 delegates.

“We now have unlimited inventory and seats in our virtual conference rooms,” FT Live’s MD Orson Francescone, told The Drum. “We can sell infinite tickets to a global audience. That is pretty powerful. Revolutionary, even.”

“Key to turning one-off news consumers into repeat visitors”

Other new content products launched by publishers during the pandemic include email newsletters based around various requirements arising from the pandemic. The topics have ranged from homeschooling children to professional development during the pandemic, according to the Brand United report.

A recent study of 2,500 publishers and brands by marketing platform LiveIntent shows that some publishers are seeing surges in revenue via online newsletters. The newsletter categories that have registered highest bumps include shopping (103%), home and garden (55%), and business (31%).

Ad categories also reported significant increases in performance. Family and parenting lead with a 450% increase in CTR, while arts and entertainment showed a 58% growth and business – 51%.

When publishers embrace email and invest in it as a channel for consumption and monetize it, they are investing in a channel they own that performs with real people. That helps advertisers interested in solving the cross-device conundrum.

Kerel Cooper, SVP, Global Marketing at LiveIntent

The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report​ calls email “one of the most important tools available to publishers for building a habit and attracting the type of customers that can help with monetization (subscription or advertising).”

Email is popular both with news lovers (having high interest and frequency of access), as well as with daily briefers who usually check the news at a number of set times each day.

“These users tend to be much more interested in news and have more disposable household income,” says Nic Newman Senior Research Associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “This makes them a very attractive set of consumers for publishers of all types.”

It can be one of the key tools that will help publishers keep their new readers engaged post-pandemic.

For many, the key to turning one-off news consumers into repeat visitors is gaining access to the email inbox.


“Fundamentally, our core strategy is around conversion,” Melissa Inman, VP of Digital Content Strategy and Operations at Meredith Corp, told Folio. “Getting folks into that pipeline, getting that email address or getting them signed up for a browser notification, and then continuing to maximize what we get out of them through our retention cycle.”

A million listens in 10 days

Podcasts are yet another format that has the potential to create deep engagement. Some publishers have continued to record growth despite the loss of commute time (due to the pandemic) when podcasts are commonly consumed.

“Listeners are also turning to podcasts for vital information and updates on the coronavirus crisis,” writes WNiP’s Esther Kezia Thorpe. “And some publishers have taken this opportunity to present trusted information in audio form, by spinning up new shows or pivoting existing podcasts to cover the crisis in more detail.”

They include UK newspaper the Evening Standard, which saw an uptick in growth after rebranding its daily comment and analysis podcast, The Leader to ‘Coronavirus Daily’ to explore the virus’ impact. The Telegraph also launched a daily podcast, ‘Coronavirus: The Latest,’ which notched a million listens in its first 10 days across all platforms.

“The podcast gives listeners a Telegraph subscription offer within the show itself which (Theodora) Louloudis (The Telegraph’s Podcast Editor and Coronavirus podcast host) says has been well received,” adds Thorpe. “It is also helping towards The Telegraph’s wider goal of attracting registrations and subscriptions.”

“Podcasts are interesting for publishers,” says Newman. “Because they are much more likely to attract younger audiences since they can be accessed conveniently through smartphones and they offer a diversity of perspectives and voices.”

He adds, “The deep connection that many podcasts seem to create could be opening up opportunities for paid podcasts, alongside public-service and advertising-driven models.”

“A clear understanding of the reader’s need”

As publishers build upon these new opportunities brought by COVID-19, their primary challenge, in the long run, will be to capitalize on and retain the gains made during this period.

“Pandemic or not, readers will pay because they see value in your content,” writes Journalist Sherwin Chua, in a post for WAN-IFRA. “More importantly, publishers must think about having different types of content and products for different readers, especially when demand for COVID-19 news begins to wane.”

If you do quality journalism, if you have authority, which I think we have in this space, and there is integrity and quality to what you’re doing, then fortunately there is a big audience for that.

Greg Williams, Editor-in-chief, Wired UK

Converting readers to active and continued subscribers is most critical, said York Walterscheid, MD, CeleraOne. He told FIPP President and CEO, James Hewes, that to improve conversion and retention publishers need to build segments and target readers with these (content) segments as individually as possible.

And all of this needs to happen in real-time. “It’s not about building a paywall and asking for payment. It’s about interacting and engagement. A clear understanding of the reader’s need.”


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