Active Interest Media’s SVP of Digital on New Memberships & Commerce Opportunities
From ecommerce to over-the-top video, legacy media companies are eyeing a range of monetization opportunities in their transition to more diverse business models. In their search, it's important for publishers to assess whether new revenue streams stem from the core roots of their business, says Pete Sheinbaum, Active Interest Media’s new senior vice president of digital.
“Whatever we do, whatever platform we put it on, must be done in a thoughtful way that stays true to the brand and provides value to our customers,” says Sheinbaum. “At Active Interest, we’re focusing on the people we have in the building and the audience that we’ve been able to bring together over many years, and really bringing those two pieces together to decide what the future will hold.”
Active Interest’s brand portfolio encompasses more than 50 enthusiast titles, including Yoga Journal, Backpacker, Log Home Living, SKI, and Clean Eating. Sheinbaum, who joined the organization last month, is overseeing digital strategy across brand groups and guiding new membership, commerce, and product initiatives. He was previously founder and partner at advertising agency WorkInProgress, and formerly served as CEO of e-newsletter business DailyCandy and software company LinkSmart.
In this conversation, Sheinbaum shares insights into Active Interest’s product development process, as well as why he believes authenticity is critical to success in the modern media landscape.
What are the responsibilities of your new position?
In general, I’m responsible for all things digital here. We have great managers and group heads running each of our different groups from the Mountain Group to the Home Group, each building their businesses and using lots of different technologies to do so. I sit alongside and on top of the strategies being deployed to make sure that we are leveraging technology across the organization where appropriate and sharing our data and our learnings to deliver the best product we possibly can.
Can you share your current priorities?
I’m spending most of my energy right now understanding how to build out deeper relationships with our readers and ecommerce partners. We have good relationships with companies like REI and others, both in the traditional affiliate model and on the brand-building side. Right now we do gear guides, which are very popular, and make sure users have an easy way to get [to our partners] through our websites, but we believe we can be doing a bit more. There hasn’t really been a larger effort to figure out what a commerce piece should look like within the organization, which partners we should use, and where we should invest our resources. So that’s one of the things I’m focusing on shorter term.
A second initiative is our membership programs. We recently launched a couple of memberships – Basecamp for Backpacker and CE All-Access for Clean Eating – and we’re soon to come out with one for SKI Magazine called Inside Edge. We know that we’ve got great expertise, a deep archive of premium content, and other products and services that we can offer our readers on a premium basis. We’ve begun the process to figure out what that relationship will look like: the types of people interested, the types of platforms they want to consume content on, what the pricing should be, and what the value proposition is.
The last piece is our continuing education group. Not dissimilar to other companies, we’ve got lots of category experts across our brands. We’ve created a great inventory of online courses for certification, specifically around our yoga property, but also how-to informational in our other areas. We’re looking at where consumers are looking for a longer format, potentially multi-series course curriculum that they can buy from us to move their certification forward or just to have fun and learn a new skill.
How are you using data and communicating with your audience to develop memberships and other new products?
It’s still a bit fluid because we are iterating quickly, testing on both the value proposition side as well as the pricing side to make sure we have a good match. The company has a very large universe of people who have an affinity for our brands: They’ve been magazine subscribers, they’ve been website visitors, they’ve signed up for courses, and they’ve attended live events like Warren Miller’s tour or the Fly Fishing Film Tour. Across these different products we’ve created universes of people who are our baseline of potential customers. We’re also culling through the data to find out where people are spending time, who they’re interested in, what they want to see more of, less of, those kinds of things.
We created a list of offerings that we thought would be impactful for our users to transition them to a membership model. From that we worked and did research with several different survey templates and focus groups to define the value prop and pricing. Most of the data was collected from our existing audiences across different types of content and across the organization, and then we did our own research surveying pools of people to narrow down to those ideas we thought would be good for focus groups, which we ran earlier this year. We really incorporated their feedback into what we wanted to offer.
There’s a big pivot to paid in the media industry right now. What will inspire readers to invest their time and money in a membership product?
At Active Interest, since the founding of the company, we’ve had readers who have paid us for content in the form of magazine subscriptions and, more recently, membership and continuing education. We’ve got a head-start on other digital-only organizations thinking about membership models. Now what the audience is interested in, how they consume it, when they consume it, and where they consume it is all changing very rapidly. So the goal of the organization is to figure out how we can provide a service to our audience, not just content.
The thinking is going from a one-directional subscription-based relationship (you give us your money, and we send you a glossy magazine) to what should Active Interest brands provide their audiences on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis that will really delight them and provide a lot of value in exchange for them paying us on a regular frequency. We want to provide people with great content, great experiences, and great commerce opportunities and allow them to interact with like-minded people in the real world and online. They can do this on their own or they can do this with the help of a brand like Backpacker, Warren Miller, SKI, or Yoga Journal curating the experiences for them.
How else are you looking to revamp the consumer experience online?
While we have our websites, magazines, and events that are owned and operated, there’s a lot of engagement happening in social that I think we can take better advantage of. Based on our content, we know there are lots of things that people can share and talk about in their practice of yoga or their experiences skiing, out in the woods, building a home, or being on their boats. As we continue to evolve our model, we have to be very mindful of where people want to consume content, how they want to talk about it, and how they want to share it. While it’s great to try to drive people back to your own web properties, I think it’s equally as valuable to increase engagement across Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s an opportunity for us to invest some resources in those platforms.
What emerging trend do you anticipate will have the biggest impact on the media industry?
Authenticity. We’ve gone through these waves of things that have happened, starting with election fraud, that led to questions of how information is being collected and used and what constitutes what advertising is and is not – especially on social platforms. People are getting smarter at seeing through the platforms and being skeptical of how and why they are being greeted with what they’re being greeted with in their feeds, on websites, or in their email box. They will be more trusting of those brands and platforms that show honesty and transparency. We’re moving into a world where those that can speak authentically, show their true colors, and partner with like-minded media brands will do really well.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.