How Foreign Policy Grows Online Revenue Through Registration Data & Its Paywall
Chris Cotnoir, SVP and chief revenue officer at Foreign Policy, joined the global news publication in 2012 when the brand was taking a serious look at its future growth strategy. The biggest issue at the time was the lack of a plan for Foreign Policy’s online content. “There was no business model, and most of the traffic was anonymous,” said Cotnoir, speaking at the Data, Insight & Revenue Summit in June. That absence of audience data prevented Foreign Policy from fully monetizing its online content and maximizing the user experience.
So the publication decided in 2013 to require all site visitors to register to view online articles. And in 2014, Foreign Policy upped the stakes with the introduction of a paywall that required visitors to subscribe after reading five articles a month. While these significant changes lowered the brand’s overall traffic, the audience became much more valuable because of the deep data insights Foreign Policy could collect, explained Cotnoir. Today, with roughly 1.3 million registered readers, Foreign Policy can act on its rich audience data to drive higher value subscriptions and advertising.
Monetizing the Reader
On the subscription side, Foreign Policy can capitalize on the individual-level data it collects. The brand can pinpoint what specific readers engage with what content. That information is used to upsell readers into certain subscription packages, events, or other forms of paid content, said Cotnoir. “We’ve spent little money in the way of marketing over the years. We use that registration data to sell subscriptions and we are making adjustments to the products based on where and how people are consuming us.”
Before Foreign Policy implemented its paywall, it used registration data to determine how many registrants would be willing to pay for content and how much content the brand should offer up before raising the paywall. To set these parameters, Foreign Policy divided its audience into six buckets, said Cotnoir. For example, the most valuable audience bucket is filled with readers who are most likely to pay. Those readers consume 100-plus articles and visit the site multiple times in a month. Rating readers based on visits and article consumption, Foreign Policy determined a five-article, monthly limit for non-subscribers. “We wanted to maximize the number of people paying for the content while at the same time making sure that we are still getting the number of impressions we need to serve our advertisers,” explained Cotnoir.
In the years since implementing user registration and the paywall, Foreign Policy’s revenue from content has soared. Cotnoir said that revenue from content is six times greater than it was in 2012.
Selling Advertisers on Value & Viewability
Although Foreign Policy’s audience size took a hit after implementing the registration requirement and paywall, the publisher can promise a much more valuable and highly engaged audience to its advertisers. And Foreign Policy can subdivide its audience into the exact segments that advertisers want to reach. Cotnoir explained that advertisers were receptive to reaching these smaller audiences because they wanted to connect with leaders in very specific industries, from government to academia.
Cotnoir said that Foreign Policy uses registration data to sell advertisers more targeted display advertising at higher CPMs. The registration data is also used for more custom advertising packages. For example, Foreign Policy can target specific readers that will likely sign up for a sponsored event or read an advertiser’s native content.
Foreign Policy is also using audience behavior data to sell viewable CPMs to advertisers. “Viewability has become a much bigger point in the sales process,” said Cotnoir. When purchasing viewable impressions, the advertiser only pays when a consumer sees the ad. Foreign Policy measures ad viewability using Moat Analytics, a tool that can identify when an ad is viewed, how long a user views an ad, and can rate the effectiveness of specific messaging.
“We measure everything,” concluded Cotnoir. “We want to make sure that we are providing the best user experience possible with all of our products. It’s important to know what is actually working and what isn’t. . . Ultimately, you have to have information and data to support what you are trying to do.”