Society of Editors Conference 2008 in a nutshell: How the f*** do we make money from online?

If you didn’t make it to Bristol – here is the 2008 Society of Editor’s Conference in a nutshell:

“We are all doing great things with our websites and attracting millions of new readers – now how the f*** do we make some money out of them?”

The question of how to make money online has been asked at every journalism conference I’ve been to over the last five years – but the current economic downturn gave it a new urgency this weekend.

There was a feeling that journalism is an a fight for its very existence – and that was why a conference for journalists spent much of its time discussing the commercial side of the business.

In the current climate I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact I think it’s essential for editors in particular to be part of the commercial solution if their publications are to survive the current crisis.

The sales guys will go off and sell something else if the journalism industry dies – and the accountants who run many of our newspaper companies will look for synergies somewhere else.

We journalists are the ones who need to come up with creative solutions if we are to save the trade we love – and our own necks.

The managing director of Newsquest’s successful Glasgow-based classified advertising business S1 was one man who seemed to have found the answer. He claimed to be making profits of £6m on turnover of £10m – which if true would make S1 one of the most profitable websites of its kind in the world.

He said: “One single thing is key, getting your market segmentation right. The internet is not a mass audience medium.”

He said that the internet was the ultimate tool for segmenting audiences into separate markets which are very attractive to advertisers.

In other words, 20 million unique users a month isn’t worth a lot if many of them are 12-year-old Dr Who fans logging on from bedrooms around the globe. But if you can create communities around the buying and selling of things like cars and property in a particular part of the world – you have a business.

The only drawback with what he said, from the point of view of journalists, is that S1’s websites are not particularly editorially driven.

For me Dietmar Schatin from Ifra Newsplex, with his examples of revenue-driving editorial initiatives from around the world, was nearer the money.

Among these was Turkish broadsheet newspaper Hurriyet which launched a successful competition where readers voted for their favourite car.

This prompted a weekly print supplement, a TV special and an online voting area. By year four this project had generated 28,000 votes and 1.6 million euros of revenue, Schatin said.

Other examples from around the world cited by Schatin showed how a mixture of print coverage, online interactive features and live events can provide lucrative platforms for advertisers.

He was saying there is no simple answer to the question of how to make money from online – but that each one of us in our own markets has to come up with creative ways to provide new compelling content for readers which attracts an audience advertisers want to get to.

It is not going to be enough to just write lots of good stories – attracting thousands of readers – and then sell banner advertising on your website.

My own two-penneth on this is that “How are we going to make money online?” is the wrong question.

We should be asking how we are going to make money full-stop from a combination of print, online and face-to-face events.

This is something B2B magazines have known about for years – but local and national newspapers are going to have to find out too.

As a for-instance, Press Gazette has a fairly small circulation print edition with a high cover price which attracts a very senior and influential audience.
We have a website which attracts over 100,000 readers a month – so hopefully hits just about everyone else in our market at some point.
And we use our status as a “trusted brand” to organise face-to-face events which sponsors like because it gives them unique access to the people they want to reach – and they have a nice night out.

The three things are completely co-dependent and hopefully, together make a compelling commercial package.

Predictions of doom may abound for the local press – but I think with their unique access to local markets they are better placed to survive and thrive than the nationals if they can take a more B2B publishing approach.

 

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