Email: Why No Publisher Business Model Is Complete Without It

publisher business model

Originally posted on Talking New Media.

The publisher business model is changing. With more digital publishers fighting for their share of declining ad CPMs, publishers must diversify their revenue sources to stabilize their revenue in the ever-changing digital publishing industry. The quest to land on a business model that works is pushing the industry into varying ventures, such as paid subscriptions, membership programs, and events.

Most of these new sources of revenue have one thing in common: unlike advertising, they rely on direct monetization of the reader. Publishers increasingly recognize reader revenue as the most stable way forward, which means that strengthening audience relationships is paramount. As a channel uniquely suited for connecting with readers, email will play a critical role in the publisher business model of the future, no matter what a publisher’s revenue mix may be.

Email Connects with the Audience

Email’s strength lies in its capacity for delivering focused, individual communication to audiences. When a reader hands over their email address, they invite publishers to deliver that communication to their inbox. This gives the publisher a direct line to engage, nurture, and convert the reader into a paying customer, free from the restrictions of fluctuating social media and search algorithms.

When declining ad revenue makes it harder to monetize one-off visitors, publishers can use email to stay connected with their fleeting platform traffic.  Readers coming from social media or search will often view one page and leave as quickly as they landed on the site, often never to return. Sometimes, readers from social media don’t realize they’ve left the platform at all. That can make forming reader relationships a challenge, to say the least.

By pointing readers towards a newsletter signup, publishers can gain valuable first-party data on this fly-by traffic and build relationships with them in the inbox. These relationships form the foundation by which publishers can further monetize readers, whether that’s through premium subscriptions or other paid offerings.

Email Increases Audience Engagement

For publishers, email isn’t just a channel of communication; it’s a channel for delivering the product itself. Publishers build relationships with readers by engaging them with their content, and email is a particularly effective way of getting their product in front of a captive audience. That’s why the largest publishers offer dozens of regular email newsletters, ensuring they keep readers engaged by allowing them to self-select the content they see.

As more publishers go behind the paywall, this continued engagement is crucial for nurturing casual readers into paid subscribers. A first-time visitor to a site probably isn’t going to fork over money right away; first, they need to see what they’re getting. By establishing a connection with these readers and engaging them with a sampling of quality content, publishers with a metered paywall can win readers over to their paid offerings.

The email newsletter closely approximates the regular delivery of print publications, building the reading habits that encourage paid subscriptions. The New York Times has seen this firsthand, as they have found that their readers are twice as likely to become paid subscribers if they subscribe to an email newsletter first.

The increased engagement from a strong email program can also benefit publishers who rely heavily on ad revenue. Because they receive regular communication, newsletter subscribers visit more frequently, and they tend to view more pages per session. Publishers can also monetize the emails themselves. In fact, because of email’s higher engagement and predictable impressions, newsletter ads often command higher CPMs than ads elsewhere.

Email Builds Audience Trust

When readers consistently engage with content from a particular publisher, they learn what to expect from that publisher’s content. For premium publishers, consistent email engagement can convince readers of the content’s value, in turn building the audience’s trust. By connecting readers through email with the content they trust, publishers increase the chances of converting email subscribers into premium subscribers. That trust will also be important for cross-selling readers as publishing branches out into other products, such as events.

For publishers, events are another way to monetize audiences. For audiences, events are a potentially valuable experience, but they also demand a personal commitment. Attendees want to be sure that the event will be worth its admission price. A previous email relationship won’t just keep readers informed about upcoming events; their history of engagement with the content will demonstrate to them why they should make the effort to attend.

As publishers experiment with additional ways to drive revenue, their paid products may come and go, but consistent audience engagement and reader trust will be a constant in the new publisher business model. Still, if publishers are to monetize their readers directly, they must first connect with them directly. That connection starts in the inbox.