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7 smart moves for your media business right now

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Stay home. Stay safe. Stay on offense.
 
April 7 · Issue #2 · View online
Newspackr: For Media Makers
Stay home. Stay safe. Stay on offense.

Is your media business looking for its footing right now? Or searching for new opportunities in the current climate? Simply reply to this email or click my email address here: ryan@montaguestreetmedia.com. I’d love to hear what you’re working on.
Thank you to everyone who signed up since the first issue last month! This April issue is going out to about twice as many people as the last one in March. I’m grateful to get to discuss the future of our industry with such smart, thoughtful, fantastic-looking people.
The world has changed a lot in the last month…
It’s a particularly worrying time for media. Local and ad-funded media, in particular, will be hit hard. Traffic is up. But, on top of the already precipitous decline in demand for advertising, advertisers often blacklist disaster coverage like that surrounding coronavirus — so many media companies are seeing little-to-no financial benefit from their coverage of the world’s most important story for the foreseeable future.
If you still needed confirmation that the ad-based media model is broken, you can now commit your doubts to involuntary quarantine.
(On the plus side: The WHO says you won’t get coronavirus from touching a print newspaper. So, print may be dead… but at least it won’t kill you!)
And it’s not just advertising that’s been hit.
Events? Smart publishers have been diversifying for a while into events. And, of course, that’s forked now, too.
Subscriptions? A subscription model is definitely the sort of solid ground it’s best to be on right now… Though, we’ll see how things work out for The Athletic now that sports are cancelled. For now, they’re offering a free 90-day trial, instead of their usual 7-day free trial.
B2B? Skift, a big B2B success story in the travel-industry space, is up against it… they’re asking for donations to stay afloat as they postpone their planned launch of a metered paywall.
So, is everything doomed?
Of course not. Tough times are ahead. But there always will be those businesses and publications that thrive in times of crisis.
If you find a way to be smarter, you’ll come out stronger.
I have some thoughts on how to be smarter below. In the meantime, I hope everyone’s staying safe and sane.
7 smart things you can do for your media business right now
The world has changed, but that doesn’t mean it’s stopped. You still want to find ways to grow, survive, even thrive in the current landscape.
Here are seven action items to consider between Zoom meetings and staring at the wall. 🤔
1) Spend it if you got it
The shock to commerce is real, and it may end up being large and long-lasting. That said, if you’re in a position to spend on reader/member/subscriber acquisition right now… it’s time to spend.
Content distribution firm Keywee — which handles Facebook and Instagram spending for major publishers — is reporting cost-per-acquisition numbers falling through the floor. As in, drops of around 30–50% in what publishers are paying for a new email address or a paid subscriber.
Of course, not everyone will be in a position to spend right now (that’s why demand is so low, after all…). But folks who can plant seeds in the next month or two will harvest big gains as the world recovers.
2) Throw open the gates
For paywalled media companies doing high volumes of coronavirus coverage, a clear winning strategy has been to throw open the gates on this vital coverage — while making a strong pitch for readers to sign up and subscribe.
The Atlantic has seen 36,000 new subscriptions since it lowered the paywall restrictions on its coronavirus coverage. The company saw a more-than-doubling of its previous monthly traffic record, with 87 million unique visitors and more than 168 million pageviews.
Bloomberg Media, similarly, saw new subscriptions grow by 86% in March, compared with February, by hosting most of its coronavirus coverage outside its paywall.
If you’re a media company with a paywall that hasn’t made significant adjustments to provide free access to coronavirus coverage, you’re probably missing out on a lot of potential subscribers.
3) But build a gate if you don’t have one!
This does not contradict the previous item!
Taking down or softening your wall is often an effective tactic for paywalled publications in special circumstances. But that doesn’t change the fundamental fact that most media companies will be on more solid footing when they build direct, one-to-one, paid relationships with at least a core, committed, engaged segment of their audience.
This doesn’t mean you immediately need a high, restrictive, expensive paywall — or that you need to build a complicated, investment-heavy tech stack to support it.
Your gate could be as simple as having a once-a-week, paid-subscribers-only email — something in-depth, something intimate, and (most importantly) something exclusive.
This is simple to build with a tool like Pico, which has a really smooth signup/payment process to allow you to capture reader emails with one click and to sell tiered subscription levels. (They charge 5% on payments, plus Stripe’s fee of around ~2.9%, for a total of ~7.9%.) Memberful is another relatively simple and cheap option for selling subscriptions and memberships.
If you’re not generating any direct reader revenue yet, think about an email that you could create once a week, think about what you could charge, and then estimate how much you’d make if ~2% of your monthly readers signed up to pay for access.
Is that number meaningful to you? If so, you should probably give it a try.
4) Make the most of your email ad inventory
The email advertising market is smaller than the display advertising market, but it’s a great sales opportunity for smaller publishers. Free of much of the junky ad tech and rampant ad fraud found in display advertising, email ads have taken off along with the broader turn toward email as a distribution method for publishers.
Email is more intimate. People spend 5+ hours a day on it. And open rates are up (generally speaking) with the current news environment.
Whether your audience is large or niche, you have a revenue opportunity on your hands if you can sell directly to advertisers. You’ll do best if you opt for native ad units — not display ads — where the copy is in your newsletter’s voice.
Creating a native ad unit in your email is relatively simple (you just want to make it clear to readers that it’s an ad), and tracking clicks to the advertiser (or attributing affiliate revenue) is relatively simple as well.
Places to start with selling email newsletter inventory include marketplaces like Media Mobilize, Thought Leaders, Upstart, Paved, and LetterWell.
You’ll earn the highest returns, though, with direct sales.
(p.s.: If you are a big media brand selling your email inventory programmatically, through something like LiveIntent or PowerInbox, it’s likely you’re leaving a lot of money on the table by not engaging in direct sales.)
5) Make the most of other people’s email ad inventory
Remember when I said (way back at #1) to spend it if you got it? Rates on Facebook and Instagram are down, which makes it a great buying opportunity on those platforms.
The other place to think about spending to acquire readers/emails is on other email newsletters.
After all, if you’re looking for people who love to get their news in email form to subscribe to your email… well, what better place be? Look at how a company like Morning Brew is growing; they buy a lot of sponsorships of other people’s emails. (Full disclosure: They’ve bought a lot of it from email products I’ve built.)
You can buy this kind of email inventory programmatically from a company like the one mentioned above, LiveIntent (which places programmatic ads on lots of newsletters; you may have seen them in the New York Times’s email newsletters, for example).
Or, you can look for newsletters related to your topic on the same marketplaces listed above: Media Mobilize, Thought Leaders, Upstart, Paved, and LetterWell.
Also: For small newsletters in related spaces, you could organize ad swaps, which can be quite effective for growth.
6) Pivot to community
At this time of national lockdown, people need community and connection more than ever.
How are you connecting your readers to one another?
To set up either a free or paid community, you can look to a number of platforms. Mighty Networks offers a mini-social-network, with the ability to accept payments and sell (or give away) courses. Tribe offers a community platform that can be a standalone or integrated into your product. Maybe you want to create a private Slack for your readers (which you can do for free).
Whether it’s an experiment or an investment in your long-term revenue diversification, now would be a great time to add value for your audience by helping them connect.
If you’re thinking about delving into community, take a look at this guide, “How To Manage A Community During the Pandemic,” from Coral by Vox Media. Also, Mighty Networks offers a paid Community Design Masterclass (some of which is specific to the platform, but most of which is broadly applicable).
7) Ask for help!
The Paycheck Protection Program may help you cover payroll and other expenses. See Fortune’s guide here. And if you mostly use the loan to cover payroll, you can apply for loan forgiveness — that is, you may not have to pay the money back. (Disclaimer: I’m not an accountant; I don’t even play one on TV.)
Also, if you don’t already give your readers a way to support you, now’s the time to start. (Pico’s cut drops to 2%, from 5%, on donations.)
You can also check out…
And here’s a bonus #8… If your business doesn’t particularly need to say anything about coronavirus right now, then don’t!
If you’re not canceling an event or providing a truly important update to the reader, you don’t need to send out a special coronavirus email. No one needs an email from a place they bought pants a year ago!
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🧭 MSM Guides
As a service to readers, Montague Street Media compiles guides to the best resources for media makers…
Maybe you’ll find a great resource you’d missed. And if I missed a great resource, let me know at: ryan@montaguestreetmedia.com.
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