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March 12, 2013, 10:53 a.m.
Business Models

Politico Pro grows to 1,000 subscribing orgs, moves into print

Politico’s mobile-oriented, subscription-based service has an impressive 96 percent renewal rate. Now they’re starting a quarterly magazine.

Capitol StepsNinety-six. That’s the percentage of subscribers to Politico Pro who are re-upping with the service each year, the D.C. news org says. And since subscriptions to Politico Pro don’t come cheap — group subscriptions are upwards of $8,000 — that’s translating into real revenue for Politico. The company announced today they’ve netted 1,000 organizations as subscribers, representing 7,000 people.

In the two years since Politico created the policy-focused subscription site, they’ve maintained high retention rates and continued to grow, expanding beyond health care, technology, and energy into fields like transportation and finance. Politico editors expect they’ll develop new topic verticals this year. Pro’s staff — newsroom plus business side — now totals almost 100 people, and it’s currently advertising a half-dozen openings.

At a time when many news organizations are trying to figure out how to grapple with mobile, Politico Pro is as mobile native as they come, built largely around email alerts. Jim VandeHei, Politico’s executive editor, said that for many readers the email is the primary point of contact with Politico Pro. (“A lot of our users won’t go to the website other than to set their settings,” he said.)

The majority of Politico Pro’s subscriptions come from the corners you’d expect would be interested in a steady drum beat of policy minutiae, trade organizations, lobbyists, nonprofits, and federal agencies. It’s groups like the American Health Care Association. Claire Krawsczyn, public affairs manager for the AHCA, said the organization has been a subscriber to Politico Pro since 2011. Krawsczyn said she primarily uses its subscription to stay apprised of what’s happening on Capitol Hill. “I find the health care alerts I receive every afternoon incredibly helpful,” she said. Those are critical, Krawsczyn said, because they allow the public affairs or legislative teams to quickly coordinate plans when they’re alerted to key issues.

The market for constant, actionable info on the government’s day to day movements has increased in recent years, as media outlets have tried to expand on the niche publication model through better technology. Politico Pro is competing with the likes of Bloomberg Government and National Journal to provide the kind of insider information industries are willing to pay for.

“The nature of the job is running around from meeting to meeting on the hill. You have to be mobile friendly.”

The approach Politico Pro is taking is rapid, granular, and mobile. Information breaks across Politico Pro at a faster clip than the regular Politico site, developing from a three-sentence alert to a 300-word story, all delivered to subscribers’ inbox. VandeHei told me they’ve made an effort to drop the lag time between when a post is published to when it reaches readers — it should take less than a minute for new content to be distributed to subscribers, he said.

Readers can customize their news by tagging up to 25 keywords, anything from specific pieces of legislation, agencies, or names of senators or other public officials. On top of that, the site also delivered daily emails based on topic areas. They’re adding another new email product, the Pro Report, that will track the daily progress of daily stories. Since Politico Pro launched in 2011, they’ve sent more than 15,000 email alerts, according to spokeswoman Olivia Petersen.

It all adds up to one very busy inbox on your BlackBerry. But that intense focus on phones and alerts is driven by the audience, said Roy Schwartz, Politico’s chief revenue officer. “The nature of the job is running around from meeting to meeting on the hill,” Schwartz said. “You have to be mobile friendly.”

That’s one reason they revamped Politico Pro’s as a responsive design site in the fall of 2012, making the site more accessible for readers on any type of device, Schwartz said. Over the next year they want to develop strategies to get more subscribers to use the site in addition to the alerts, said Miki King, Politico’s vice president of business development. The idea is to have a kind of comprehensive Politico Pro experience, running from email alerts to the website and in-person policy discussions that are only open to subscribers, King said.

The next stage of that experience will happen in back in print: This month Pro will launch an eponymous quarterly magazine that will be distributed for free along with the print edition of Politico. For a product built on speed, nuance, and technology, a quarterly print publication is a decidedly slower direction for Politico Pro. But VandeHei said there is an audience for deep, long form journalism that analyzes the present or looks ahead to the future. “They want richer, more reported pieces that put all the different things floating about in an individual policy area into a greater context,” VandeHei said.

As it grows older, Politico should be able to offer readers a mix of rapid-fire daily news as well as deep analysis, VandeHei said. Consider it the “Slow Politico” movement, where writers will be able to draw out longer stories from their daily reporting by looking at policy as well as the personalities and politics that occupy the corridors of Washington D.C. The magazine, which debuts March 22, will be staffed by existing Politico Pro journalists, VandeHei said. Going back into print offers additional benefits, like adding another venue for advertisers. But the magazine can also act as an ad for the Politico Pro brand itself, putting the name in front of non-subscribers.

All the fine-tuning is designed to keep that subscription renewal rate high, holding on to current readers and adding new ones to the mix. We should expect to see more policy topic areas from Politico Pro in 2013, but both Schwartz and VandeHei declined to say what areas they’ll be expanding into. VandeHei said technology is only improving what Politico can offer to readers, and that puts the onus on them to be faster, smarter and more efficient.

“The great challenge for us and other media entities are people are overwhelmed with information now,” he said. “With such a massive increase in the production of information in the last 6 years, they need organizations to tell them what they should be reading.

Image by Andrew Morton used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     March 12, 2013, 10:53 a.m.
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