Content Begets Audience: Publishers Need to Keep Investing in Editorial
There’s a reciprocal relationship between a publisher’s two most valuable assets – content and audience. Good content helps you attract an audience. Great content helps you keep an audience. Your audience’s behavior will tell you which type of content it values most, and so, the cycle will continue. Create great content and you’ll build an audience. It should be that simple, right?
Challenges arise when publishers think they are entitled to an audience but aren’t producing content that is worth their audience’s time and money. You know them, but hopefully you’re not one of them -- publishers who think that merely the production of decent content is going to win them a loyal audience.
It’s 2019 and there is no shortage of places where I can spend one of my most valuable assets -- my time. Magazines, social media, my latest podcast obsession, my favorite shows on Netflix -- these are all places competing for my attention when I sit down at the end of the day. Publishers, you aren’t competing with each other. You’re competing with everything. Every channel, app, download, article, and feed that is trying desperately to snag 2-3 minutes of my attention. Yet, it isn’t very often that we hear publishers asking themselves… is this content worth our audience’s time? Are we producing content that is so good our audience will come back, time and again, just to read it? Moreover, will they actually pay for it?
Time Spent = The First Step to Monetization
Time spent is the first step of an exchange with your audience. If you can’t get your audience to spend time with your content, you’ll never get them to pay for it. Let’s repeat that, just for good measure. If you can’t get your audience to spend time with your content, you’ll never get them to pay for it. Time spent is currency. If your audience isn’t spending with you, they are spending it with someone else.
So, how do you get someone to spend time with your content? Well, for starters, it has to be great. No brainer, right? Why then are we seeing headline after headline covering the slashing of editorial departments at publishers across the country? Major newspapers, alt-weeklies and most recently at Buzzfeed and HuffPo. Times are tough for publishers, I get it, but weakening one of your most valuable assets doesn’t seem like the right answer. Some would say it’s not just foolish for business, but it’s a threat to democracy.
There’s a saying I see touted from sales execs from time-to-time. Something about the man (or woman!) who stops advertising to save money is like stopping a clock to save time. You’ve probably heard it. But maybe we need another saying. A publisher that cuts content to save money is like turning off your Apple watch to save time. By undervaluing the single reason that you have an audience to begin with, you’re just accelerating the decline.
Invest in Content
If you want to build an audience, invest in content. If the battle over the Fyre Festival documentaries taught us anything, it’s that content matters. And even when you produce a great piece of content, there’s always someone else out there nipping at your heels with an equally compelling take on the story.
Publishers, give me (and everyone else) a reason to spend time with your brand and your content. If you don’t, don’t be surprised that your returning visitor numbers are down and that you can’t monetize our relationship. There’s simply too much else out there for me to choose from and life is just too short to consume mediocre content.
Melissa Chowning is the CEO of Twenty-First Digital, where she guides her clients’ digital strategies and audience development efforts to drive traffic, engagement, and retention. Formerly the Audience Development Director of D Magazine, Portland Monthly and Seattle Met, Melissa understands that the key to audience growth is also monetization. When she’s not immersed in the digital world, you’ll likely find her reading, listening to podcasts, and keeping busy with her two children, both under the age of 6.