How to make money as a publisher: NYC pros talk monetization

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We invited the NYC publishing community to share insights on monetization strategies in the industry.

On June 19, Bibblio hosted the fifth edition of the 'Future of Media & Publishing' event series at WeWork Penn Station. Special thanks to our sponsor Marfeel (who helped us put together an event which made us forget all about that certain festival that was going on in Cannes).

The evening featured a panel with contributors Josh Kaufman (VP Client Development at Digital Trends), Jennifer Bartner Indeck (CEO & Group Publisher at Den of Geek US), Fedra Pavlou (Senior Vice President at Texere Publishing) and Donna Bulford (Chief Revenue Officer at Animation World Network). Xavier Jenkins (Strategic Partnership Manager at Marfeel) moderated the panel.

The evening was kicked off by my colleague and Bibblio CEO Mads Holmen who handed it over to Ryan Stewart (Strategic Partnership Executive at Marfeel) to share a few words on the sponsor's behalf.

Read on for the highlights from both presentations, followed by a write-up of the panel.

Publishers' return to self-reliance

Bibblio's Mads Holmen began with a presentation on how to navigate the attention economy. He described we now live in a world where the availability of eye-balls is vital for growth, as Mads explains by quoting Netflix CEO Reed Hastings:

"Back in 2017, Reed famously said that their biggest competitors aren't Amazon or YouTube - it's our need to sleep. Recent studies show that Americans sleep almost an hour less than they did 10 years ago, so you could say he's actually winning? Until we see a huge revival in nature walks, then this is the situation we live in."

A handful of companies are dominating in this new economy, with Google and Facebook leading the charge. The vast majority of ad growth is going towards these gigantic companies. There are two main reasons for that: one is the availability of data and the strong targeting capabilities that come from that, second is the immense scale any one of these platforms can offer.

Mads Holmen, CEO of Bibblio
Mads Holmen, CEO of Bibblio

In this world, Mads is seeing publishers changing their way, diversifying beyond advertising and becoming more self-reliant:

"More and more content will not be funded by advertisement alone. What I'm seeing in the market is that publishers of all shapes and sizes are adding revenue channels such as events, affiliate, e-commerce, sponsored & branded content, lead generation and more."

Having these different channels in place has made publishers more sustainable. Mads emphasized that particularly content businesses in the special interest and B2B markets are doing well. He went on to explain how Bibblio is helping publishers improve their monetization by offering tools such as 'Promotion', which features publishers' own revenue-generating content to a naturally engaged audience across their site:

"The Bibblio tech understands which monetized content or offers are relevant where, placing recommendations on your pages that are sure to appeal to interested users."

Learn more Download Mads's presentation

Easy to use, fast mobile experiences

Next up, Ryan Stewart delivered a quick introduction to Marfeel by asking us to take out our phones and go to The Washington Times site.

Ryan Stewart, Strategic Partnership Executive at Marfeel
Ryan Stewart, Strategic Partnership Executive at Marfeel

Committed to continually improving the mobile experience, Marfeel brought a boost to this publisher by upping the site speed with instant loading of less than 0.7 seconds. It also delivered an app-like experience, smooth swiping navigation, navigation levels and more.

Learn more Download Ryan's presentation

When display advertising isn't enough anymore

Then it was the panel's turn, which covered different ways for publishers to make money, whether content is still king, and how to drive more people to your site.

Josh Kaufman of Digital Trends, Jennifer Bartner Indeck of Den of Geek US, Fedra Pavlou of Texere Publishing, Donna Bulford of Animation World Network and Xavier Jenkins of Marfeel
Josh Kaufman of Digital Trends, Fedra Pavlou of Texere Publishing, Donna Bulford of Animation World Network, Jennifer Bartner Indeck of Den of Geek US and Xavier Jenkins of Marfeel

After introductions, moderator Xavier from Marfeel asked the panel about revenue strategies. What have they dealt with historically and what does the mix look like now? Jennifer from Den of Geek US went first and said the times that you could get away with just online display advertising are over:

"You have to diversify in order to be successful. For us this means having channels such a print magazine, custom video, pre-roll ads, header bidding and direct campaigns. The publishing industry is constantly changing, and you need to be able to protect yourself against those changes."

Protecting yourself from the changing tide, doesn't mean all bets are off. Den of Geek US has really enthusiastic, but discerning users, Jennifer exclaims. You have to invest in quality content, and that also means curating advertising that people want to see. And no, Jennifer concluded, not all pre-roll is created equal.

Donna from Animation World Network (AWN) agrees with Jennifer and mentions you don't want people encountering random video ads, but instead to only be shown what is relevant. It's important to be true to your company's content strategy. For example, Donna states that AWN wouldn't run an insurance ad from the programmatic feed or publish content that's not about animation and visuals effects.

Is content still king?

Fedra from Texere Publishing has a strong belief in the winning strategy for their publishing business. In her eyes, content is still absolutely king:

"I don't think we'd be able to compete in the scientific and medical markets if we didn't have the quality of content we put out there. For us it's about building professional networks who go on to eventually become our opinion leaders and advocates. As our readership and influence grew, the advertising dollars followed."

The audience at the fifth Future of Media & Publishing New York
The audience at the fifth Future of Media & Publishing New York

Josh from Digital Trends has a different take. He argued that although it's extremely important to have relevant content that your users gravitate towards and engage with, the real "king" in 2019 is having the ability to merge that content with commerce. Josh gives an example:

"We often put together a four-part, custom video series for the large consumer electronics brands we work with. In these videos we focus on the values, aesthetics and technical features of a product (suite). As part of this we also make the 'click-to-buy' option seamless, on and even off our site."

Driving traffic to your most valuable content

Before the online order takes place, how does Josh actually drive traffic to the sponsored video series? He mentions that it's about amplifying content off your site:

"It's important to be where users would naturally find us, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. If you're looking at traffic trends at Digital Trends, you'd see that less than 10% is direct. Most people come in through the side door - 40% of our traffic comes in from social posts. The other 50% comes in through general search."

Donna's strategy involves driving her most loyal audiences to branded content, such as subscribers or people from direct traffic. She works with other publishers, social media agencies and influencer networks to drive traffic as well:

"Influencers are getting good at being transparent and consumers appreciate that. It's definitely been a great way to have readers engage with our branded content."

Jennifer does not pay for traffic to their branded content. At Den of Geek they believe in investing in getting the right writer and unique hook, so the readers want to read it. It's part of the "sensible partnership" she wants to create between their advertisers and their users.

Bonus: Events are an exciting new growth area

During the panel it became clear that - next to sponsored and branded content, lead generation (through content marketing) and advertising - events are a growing revenue stream. Fedra doesn't plan for Texere to be huge exhibition providers, but their sponsored events are making a difference:

"We are experts in our niches and know the big players and influencers well. We have been growing our virtual and live events business more recently and it currently drives around 10% of our total revenue. I believe that focusing on niche and small, virtual events could be key to make a growing impact while keeping the costs down."

Jennifer states that events are important for their audience as they are very engaged entertainment enthusiasts. Den of Geek US doesn't put on their own events but chooses to partner up:

"We'll work with Comic Con, for example, and put on an event at these bigger trade shows. We'll distribute our print magazine there in a controlled manner - from that we can make anywhere between 60-100K USD each time."

A big thank you to all attendees and contributors! We had a great time and will be back in NYC for the next Bibblio publishing event on the other side of summer.

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