Defining a focus, and then saying no

“In 2017, the publishers that optimize for quality of content over quantity of clicks will earn the loyalty — and the business — of readers. Their audiences may be smaller, but they’ll be more valuable.”

2017 will be the year that reader loyalty is tested.

keren-goldshlagerFaced with a new political reality that many didn’t expect, readers are looking to deepen their relationships with publications that can help them make sense of the world. In recent weeks, nonprofit newsrooms have seen a “flood” of donations, and the New York Times has gained hundreds of thousands of new subscribers.

It’s tempting for publishers to coast on readers’ renewed passion for journalism. But they shouldn’t get complacent. There’s a clear opportunity for publishers to channel this post-election energy into something more reliable. Those that develop strategies now to double-down on long-term loyalty will succeed in 2017.

They’ll do this in a few ways:

  • Focusing on reader support: Established publications from Slate to Politico have been selling digital subscriptions for years, and here at Medium, independent publishers like Latterly and Femsplain collect monthly membership fees from their loyal audience. In 2017, we will see more and more publishers of all sizes focusing on recurring — not campaign-based — financial support from readers.
  • Putting people front and center: Loyalty thrives when personalities are able to shine. Nate Silver has ignited a community of data enthusiasts at FiveThirtyEight, while Arianna Huffington is starting conversations about wellbeing through Thrive Global. In 2017, publishers will continue to build brands around their talent. They’ll also create places for their most devoted readers to congregate, whether through podcasts, live events or Slack channels.
  • Rallying around new modes of measurement: In 2016, publishers began to reach a consensus about the broken nature of digital metrics, which over-report on fleeting impressions while saying little about the loyalty of a given reader. In 2017, we’ll see an earnest industry-wide effort to test additional frameworks, more focused on engagement, intention and time. Platforms will begin — or continue — taking this into account, iterating upon the incentive structures they create.
  • Defining a focus — and then saying no: Smart publishers will move away from creating everything for everyone as a tactic to generate viral traffic. Instead, we’ll see more focus. In June, The Economist blogged about their decision to skip posting a celebrity-centric video in favor of exploring the news more deeply on a podcast. And just last month, Politico veterans launched Axios with a promise to distinguish themselves by “delivering at a very high level” on their commitment to excellence.

In 2017, the publishers that optimize for quality of content over quantity of clicks will earn the loyalty — and the business — of readers. Their audiences may be smaller, but they’ll be more valuable.

Keren Goldshlager works on Medium’s publisher development team.

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