Oct 22, 2009

The 'loyal reader' metric

As news organizations discover better ways to measure online traffic, the focus of publishing could shift away from serving a mass audience to maintaining a loyal one. As a result, this could simultaneously liberate newsrooms from the pressure to generate hits at all costs and provide a more valuable metric with which to sell advertising.

Knight Digital Media talked with Slate editor David Plotz about what this could mean for content. Here's an excerpt (emphasis theirs):
“Until now we’ve been selling to the mass audience. Now once you have this ability to target you can really target your core audience… This creates strong incentive to create durable journalism,” Plotz said. “That one curious reader is worth 50 times the value of the drive-by reader. The person who makes a commitment to your brand, if you’re a quality brand….. if you can get those readers, a smaller set of readers, who come to you three or five or 10 times a week, you don’t have to go after that huge other set of readers.”

So forget celebrity and outrage stories. For Slate, this focus means a commitment to long form journalism such as a recent series on the American dental crisis, which Plotz estimates was read by 400,000 people. Slate has started a “Fresca Fellowship” that requires each reporter and editor to spend a month each year on a long form journalism project. Advertisers have begun to sponsor specific projects and they are paying for themselves, he said.

“Advertisers want to be around some ambitious project more than they want to be around some snarky political column,” Plotz said.

The approach won't work for every publication - and some publications won't want to do it since they equate influence with hits. But the "loyal readers" approach is familiar to journalism magazines and small- and medium-size newspapers, so it shouldn't require them to become niche publications to be successful.

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