How Money-Media Converted Free Subscriptions to Paid Newsletters
There are countless free newsletters in B2B publishing, as well there should be. Newsletters do great things. They are the number one traffic builder for most niche verticals, since social media and search only go so far in bringing hydrocarbon experts or facility managers to your site repeatedly.
Sending daily - or at least weekly - newsletters keeps people clicking through to your website, where hopefully you have effective contextual content and offers to get them to stick around. Each one also provides desirable advertising sales opportunities. You can’t have enough sub-niche newsletters in my book. This also keeps your brand vital in your market. If you send less frequently than weekly, your content remains an afterthought.
The idea of converting a free newsletter to paid is so unusual, it would never occur to most publishers. If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me, “our market will never pay for content.” But the biggest hurdle to selling content is mustering the belief that you can. When I moved from a career primarily in ad-supported media to a large business information publisher long ago, I was endlessly amazed at the content we were able to sell.
The next hurdle in selling content is investing in editorial. You need a newsroom trained to recognize and report on industry-essential news, research and trends. That was no problem for Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a New York-based subsidiary of UK’s Financial Times. Money-Media had built a successful group of high-priced content products for the investment management industry. They saw continued growth, but did not see room for a new, breakthrough product on the immediate horizon. That is when they revived an idea they had kicked around two years prior, “half on the back burner and half dead,” according to Fink.
Money-Media saw a similarity in the insurance industry to the investment market they were serving. They decided to target insurance underwriters, who had “actionable business intelligence” needs much like investment managers. Better yet, there was already overlap. They had insurance executives as existing subscribers and still more in their marketing lists. “We started looking for a vehicle to test demand,” says Fink, “a minimally viable product.”
They deployed the company’s “core approach” to launch Life Annuity Specialist. Give readers the news they need to better run their business - with no advertising. They covered changing regulations, market challenges, products that were being introduced, and corporate divisions bought and sold. “Everything your competitors are doing.” Fortunately, they were able to assign an editor without having to hire, and use freelancers for the rest. They bought some lists to add to their own and launched a thrice-weekly newsletter - Monday, Wednesday, Friday - last April.
The light bulb moment about the viability of the product came when they ran benchmarks against their existing, paid newsletters. They were seeing the same amount of engagement, even more at times. By the fall they sensed this had legs. They posted a notice that the newsletter would be free for the next 30 days. If you want to continue receiving this valuable news, contact our sales rep. People began emailing the rep from the first announcement.
For Life Annuity Specialist, internal sales reps sold company-wide subscriptions. Prices range from a few thousand to $10,000 per year for the largest organizations. They told buyers that prices were lower now than they will be the next year, once the product is well-established. They also told prospects that by charging a fee they were going to be able to add more features and content.
Fink suggests when you don’t have a lot to go on in entering a new market, a newsletter may be the way to test. “Pricing will vary by market,” he acknowledges. Not every market can support the price points Money-Media was able to ask. Fink says the key is to keep your eyes on the benchmarks, the KPIs. “My big lesson is, when there is a fundamental demand and you’re going with the flow, it’s a much easier road to a paid product.”
I cannot imagine an industry with no critical content needs. In my experience, regulations and compliance are the best paths to paid content success, so look there first. With the right content-packaging, it is not only news reporting that sells. I know publishers who get paid for content they give away free elsewhere. And I have personally sold multiple products based on publicly available information. Believe!
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.