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Oct. 16, 2019, 10:34 a.m.

The News Revenue Hub is launching a pilot project to help news orgs increase their readers’ loyalty

You can turn loyal readers into members and subscribers. But first, you have to turn occasional readers into loyal readers.

Everyone who’s had to sit next to a business-school student at Thanksgiving knows about the funnel. There are lots of versions of it, but the core idea in publishing terms is this:

At the top of the funnel you’ve got a lot of people who have a very loose connection to your news site. Say they’ve never heard of you, but they clicked a link in their Twitter feed and now they’re reading one of your articles.

Your job is to move as many of those people as you can down the funnel — meaning into greater and greater connection and commitment to what you do. Say you get that reader to click on a different story once they’re done with the first one. Or you get them to do back to your homepage and look around. You get them to sign up for your email newsletter, which they start reading every day. In that newsletter one day, you mention your podcast and you get them to listen and subscribe. Eventually, you generate enough value for that reader that they start coming back — and maybe even pay you some money!

At every stage of that process, the size of the funnel shrinks. Monthly unique visitors > repeat visitors > daily visitors > paid members or subscribers. The folks at the bottom of the funnel are your most important customers. But you still need a steady inflow of people at the top of the funnel to have more potential candidates to move down it.

As publishers become less enamored of advertising and more interested in revenue from readers — usually through subscriptions or membership — they’ve paid more attention to that customer path. One of the prime movers in that effort has been the News Revenue Hub. Its biggest focus thus far has been near the bottom of the funnel — but now it’s turning its eyes upward.

“Our focus for three years has been about taking loyal readers and turning them into subscribers and donors,” says Evan Mackinder, the News Revenue Hub’s director of audience development. “Now we want to go a step further and help our clients find even more of those loyal readers.”

Hence the newly announced Google News Initiative-News Revenue Hub Audience Lab, with $1.5 million in funding from the Knight Foundation and the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. The money will go toward “creating a team that will work directly with newsrooms to expand audience and develop editorial products that enhance loyalty and inspire financial support. The team will work with newsrooms to drive adoption of critical platforms, tools and strategies that increase lead generation, email subscriptions, donations and retention.”

Among the areas to be examined: email newsletters, perhaps the single most important engine of loyalty available to publishers today. Search engine optimization, which doesn’t particularly feed loyalty but does bring a lot of new visitors to sites every day. How loyal your existing audience is, and what are the characteristics of your most loyal readers?

The News Revenue Hub promises to share their findings publicly so all news organizations can benefit.

But the first news orgs to benefit will be these seven: two locals, Bethesda Beat in Maryland and Rivard Report in San Antonio; two regional, Bridge Magazine in Michigan and CalMatters in California; and three nationals, the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Next Avenue (“public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population”). May their funnels all be full and free of clogs.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Oct. 16, 2019, 10:34 a.m.
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