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Not so long ago, when publishers wanted to find new customers, they had a simple but expensive solution: they’d just buy other media companies.

Consider how Condé Nast acquired pioneering tech magazine Wired in the late ’90s. The East Coast publishing dynasty, largely known for upscale fashion publications -” glossies like GQ, Vanity Fair, and Vogue, to name a few -” was stepping into uncharted territory: an audience of Silicon Valley techies.

Moves like that let publishers access new customer demographics. They could then bring these audiences to different types of advertisers, leading to more ad sales. Of course, corporate acquisitions also helped pad subscriber lists -” but the tide is turning.

Sure, these moves still occur. The New York Times purchased sports-centric website The Athletic earlier this year for $550 million. However, this costly blanket approach is giving way to a more refined method of customer acquisition. 

Today, publishers are increasingly resourceful. They’re investing in cost-effective tech and are on a data-driven mission to access new customers. Essentially, they’ve switched from buying companies to buying audiences (without the newsroom overhead).

In this blog post, we’ll explain how publishers are using tech to gather and sort data to capture new audiences (and grow major revenue streams).

3 ways publishers are using data to convert new subscribers

After a rough start in the early days of internet media, digital subscriptions have been a driving force for bottom-line growth in recent years. 

That positive trend appears likely to continue. 79% of publishers say subscriptions are the top revenue priority this year, according to research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Here are three data-forward steps that publishers can take for better subscription-conversion rates.

Create user profiles: Publishers are using technologies like data management platforms (or DMPs for short) to create distinct user segments. DMPs analyze user behavior to create unique user profiles. They also identify distinct audience segments. This gives an overview of a media company’s various audiences, helping publishers identify problem areas or room for growth.

Personalize content: With all of the data sorted out and accessible, a publisher can target users or niche groups with the content that’s most relevant to their interests. 

Recently, The New York Times and Washington Post began experimenting with personalized homepages. The publications display different stories based on a reader’s location or reading history, for example. (Publishers have been employing similar features in news apps for a while.)

Generate custom offers: Sometimes, it takes the perfect offer at the right time (discounts are, after all, one of the main reasons digital subscribers commit.) With a tool like Amplio -” Lineup’s subscription acquisition and management platform for the media industry -” marketing teams can rapidly deploy customized subscription offers to different user segments.

Possibilities include subscription bundles catering to different segments’ top interests, or exclusive discounts for registered users who aren’t yet paid subscribers.

What does this mean for advertising?

Subscriptions might be the top priority for publishers, but advertising remains a core revenue generator. “Publishers report that digital advertising has boomed with more people buying online,” according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism research.

With robust first-party data and the ability to hone in on specific audience segments, publishers provide serious value for potential advertisers, who are also keen to buy audiences, not publications.

Similar to publishers trying to sell subscriptions, advertisers would rather approach hyper-focused segments with the most relevant products. They’re not buying ad space in a legacy publication -” they’re buying specific sets of eyes. Why try and sell a ukulele to someone who doesn’t play any instruments or listen to music?

A publisher with solid first-party data can connect advertisers with the most suitable potential customers, whether that’s based on age and gender or even pet ownership or food ordering habits. That leads to higher campaign success rates and encourages repeat ad buys. They can also charge more for their ads.

Subscriptions and ads are just the beginning

We’ve talked a lot about data and targeting in terms of subscriptions and advertising revenues, but there are many other ways publishers can capitalize on them. A publisher could present bespoke insider events to certain readers, or sell merch, like those New Yorker tote bags you might have seen. 

The possibilities are nearly endless, and the best part? Exploring these channels won’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It just requires a smart investment in tech.

Neda Bjorner

Neda has over 15 years of experience in the media industry with a particular focus on print and online. She has worked for Metro USA in the Production department, where she was part of the team that launched Adpoint and was responsible for its training across the company. Neda joined Lineup with the goal to analyze, implement, and deploy Adpoint to new and existing customers, and focuses on collaboration with our customers to innovate and create new solutions for them. She lives in Boulder, CO, with her husband and son.