New Scientist's Jo Adams: data is the beating heart of our business

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With so much negative coverage of publishing, we at Bibblio are shining a spotlight on the many vertical publishers that are thriving. Welcome to the "Vertical Heroes" series of interviews.

As politicians, businesses and commentators vie to see how frequently they can say "unprecedented times", the COVID-19 outbreak has encouraged people to seek out more academic perspectives. During the UK's often venomous altercations over the Brexit referendum, one senior politician declared in a TV interview that the public had "had enough of experts". Wishful thinking on the government's part, perhaps, as it's those experts to whom we've turned.

Fielding the important questions about this pandemic, and more, the New Scientist, is a stalwart in the science and technology world. Founded In the UK as a print magazine in 1956, it launched a digital edition in the pioneering days of 1996, covering tech, health, the environment, space, physics, the mind, and more. The online version features all the print content alongside a wealth of news, opinion and in-depth articles, as well as video and podcasts.

Jo Adams, their marketing director, spoke to Bibblio CEO Mads Holmen about subscription models, SEO visibility and their lab-like methodical processes for success.

Jo Adams, marketing director at New Scientist
Jo Adams, marketing director at New Scientist

Mads: Hello Jo. Let's jump in and find out who the New Scientist's target audience is.

Jo: Sure! We're naturally targeted towards the scientific community, along with business decision-makers, purchasers and the general public. A third of readers are based in the US, followed by the UK, Australia and the rest of the world. They tend to be educated, older and affluent, but our offering isn't exclusionary and appeals to all who have an interest in science and technology.

M: What different types of content do you offer?

J: We have written news, comment, analysis and in-depth reporting, as you'd expect, which runs across print, online and app. We have weekly podcasts as well as video, filmed mainly at our popular events series, such as the multi-award-winning science festival, New Scientist Live. Our events portfolio is quite extensive, with masterclasses, evening events and discovery tours also drawing the crowds. In addition, we help individuals through New Scientist Jobs, giving them an opportunity to connect and advance their careers across science, tech, engineering and medicine.

M: How large is the New Scientist and your audience?

J: We’ve just under 100 staff members with a main office in London's Covent Garden, and a small team in Boston and Sydney. We're seeing 10.4m online page views each month, 6.4m unique users, mostly via desktop, spending averages of four minutes on-page. There are also 132k app users, 500k email newsletter subscribers and 400k jobseekers on our careers platform.

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M: You're established but are continuing to grow impressively - what has been the secret sauce?

J: I believe it comes down to expert file management, data-driven insight and a test-and-learn mentality. We leverage them in singleminded service of three key objectives:

  • driving volume, yield and revenue through optimising existing audience and channels;
  • developing new audience segments; and
  • fostering company-wide collaboration, to develop new products and campaigns across the business.

M: That's a sound methodology. How do you prioritize developing these new audience segments whilst engaging your existing users deeper?

J: With equal focus. We have a Head of Campaign Management and a Head of Customer Experience. One focuses on acquisition and the other retention, but they both work together, and with the wider business, on engagement, because engagement is equally important for both new and existing customers.

New Scientist's home page
New Scientist's home page

M: How are you retaining your audiences?

J: With excellent content; 50% of our resource is editorial, we invest in editorial content across multiple platforms to engage and delight our audiences.

M: What are the key audience metrics you define success by?

J: Along with the obvious: Subscriber volume, revenue, yield, retention rates, cost-per-acquisition, etc. we are also developing an engagement metric across tenure based on frequency, recency, volume and dwell. We also closely monitor first year churn.

M: Define what SEO means to you. Are we talking keywords, page speed, engagement?

J: All of the above, but also SEO is about discovery; it’s essential you’re on the first page of search engine results, as this is where you will be discovered. Last year we were in the Sistrix Top 100 SEO Winners list, reaching 16th with a 181% increase in search visibility.

M: What’s your social media strategy, and how important is it for you to be present on those platforms?

J: Hugely important, we have a dedicated social media team headed up by our fabulous social media editor. We have over 8m followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Right now it’s all about video.

Over 3.5m people follow New Scientist's Facebook page
Over 3.5m people follow New Scientist's Facebook page

M: Would you describe them as data-driven? 

J: Absolutely! Data is the beating heart of our business. As I mentioned, the trio of expert file management, data-driven insight and a test-and-learn mentality works very well in reaching our three key objectives.

M: Could you shed a bit of light on your revenue model?

J: We are a subscription business with a hard paywall, but back issues prior to 1989 are free to read online. We also run advertising site-wide, with further revenues from our print editions, events and sponsorship.

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M: What's your fastest growing area?

J: Global subscriptions. There is a growing demand for trusted, authoritative content and we are seeing this through our international growth. We posted a 3.29% increase in print circulation (measured by ABC), which was the first increase in some 12 years.

M: Why do you think your model has been successful?

J: We use the data to guide our decision making, and our mantra is "test and learn". This focuses us on delivering what our customers want, not what we think they want.

M. From your own journey, what do you think other vertical publishers could learn?

J: Let the data guide you. Put data at the heart of your business and learn to ask the right questions, and the rest will follow.

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Publishing in peril

Web users have enjoyed free access to content for years, which has meant some digital publishers are having a tough time of it. To make money they either put up a paywall or rely on ads and clickbait. Google and Facebook offer easy ways to share content, but these referrals are fickle, hard to monetize, and dependent on algorithms that can change in a heartbeat.

In this ecosystem, quality journalism cannot thrive, replaced instead by sensationalist content and filter-bubbled fake news. The experience for users is jumbled and distracting, putting customer loyalty at serious risk.

Help is at hand

Bibblio's discovery platform lets publishers increase engagement, build loyalty and improve how they monetize. Our AI understands the context of each content item, recommending it at the right place and time, recirculating the publisher's content and personalizing their audience's experiences across any touchpoint.

Using either light-touch self-serve tools or running deeper integrations with support from Bibblio's engineers, these successful publishers have found smarter ways to deliver value through their sites, gain a better understanding of their audience and return their focus to quality editorial.

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