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How to make digital publishing pay

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Joanna Geary, community and web development editor of the Times, comments on how you can make customers “stab ink into their bodies” to prove they love your brand.

Greary, who joined the Times in 2009 after being tweeted a job offer, has responsibility for developing the website’s online community.

“You’re always going to want to have more eyeballs on your site than your competitors,” she says. “But it doesn’t just boil down to the number of additional unique users every day. The numbers won’t go up forever. Remember: some people are more valuable than others. You have to build customer loyalty and work out who your fans are.”

She adds that retaining two per cent of your readers/customers can add 25 per cent to your profit.

“Things get better when you start building relationships,” says Greary. “Look at Apple, for instance. Customers are so obsessed and engaged with the brand that they have the logo tattooed on their bodies.”

So how do you get there? Greary advises the following:

1. Know who your fans are and understand why they are fans. Who keeps coming back to your site?

2. Reward their loyalty. And that doesn’t mean giving them a free tote bag.

3. Acknowledge their contribution to your website.

“Readers of the Times believe the site belongs to them. It’s theirs, they’ve paid for it,” she says. “It’s a place for them to have conversations. We can no longer judge how good a news story is based on feedback from editors. We base it on reader metrics.”

Mary Beth Christie, head of product management for FT.com, agrees: “You have to have conversations with your readers. Five per cent of your audience might be proactive enough to leave comments on your website, so you have to find ways to engage with the other 95 per cent.”

FT.com started charging for content in 2002 and introduced the “metered model” in 2007. It now has three million registered web users and a third of the FT’s revenue comes from online sales content. “Can we please ban the term ‘paywall'”? asks Christie. “You don’t talk about paywalls when you buy a pint of milk or a holiday, do you? The terms conjures up an image of a huge impenetrable barrier.”

Daniel Kennedy, founder of Video News Agency, outlines the big growth areas for publishing companies:

1. Niche interest TV

2, Huge opportunities for periodicals and specialist titles

3. Vertical media dabbling in video

4. Simple talking heads/opinions complementing the written word

5. Sponsored video features (“advidorial”)

6. PR agencies

7. Video news releases

8. Generic video news content or interviews

9. Smartphone apps

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