Over the past 10 years, there have been dramatic changes in the publishing industry – changes that have made reaching, building, and retaining audiences much more complicated than it was in any preceding decade.

News content, which was once the purview of media moguls, is now being curated, generated, and shared by almost every business on the Web.

Everyone’s a publisher these days.

So how do newspapers and magazines rise above the content marketing noise and grow brand equity, audience, and revenue in such an over-crowded publishing landscape?

It really is quite simple. They need to implement a content strategy that delivers the right content to the right audience at the right time at the right price through the right distribution channels.

Getting the right content, audience, timing, and pricing right is fundamental to success, but without an effective distribution strategy, a publisher’s content is just like a tree falling in a forest – will anybody hear?

Unfortunately, this where many publishers are often plagued by fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), because they need to consider augmenting the traditional distribution channels they control (e.g. print, digital editions, Web site) with non-traditional channels that continue to gain popularity with today’s news consumer:

  • Social media channels (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube).

  • Free news aggregators (e.g. Google News, Flipboard, Pulse).

  • Newsstands (e.g. Zinio, iTunes, Amazon).

  • Revenue-generating aggregators (e.g. Netflix, PressReader).

Traditional distribution channels have been somewhat effective at generating revenue and audience engagement in the past, but they are not enough to sustain either in this over-crowded and highly competitive market.

This is where non-traditional channels can help if managed carefully.

Audience development

Social media helps publishers reach news consumers who like to discover content through snippets shared by friends and followers. To capitalise on this opportunity publishers need to get tempting morsels of content out in full force across all social channels to maximise reach.

Free news aggregators help publishers reach readers who prefer to search for news based on topics of interest. To attract these readers, publishers should use high-value keywords in their headlines to rank higher in search results.

They should also consider offering a carefully chosen assortment of full-content articles within mobile aggregator apps to further expand the reach of their content and increase brand awareness and journalistic authority.

Social media and free news aggregators are perfect channels for “breaking news” and non-exclusive content. These hot-off-the-press stories can help draw readers to a publisher’s Web site, where new opportunities to grow brand awareness and enhanced engagement are possible.

However, publishers must be careful not to give up the baby with the bathwater by relinquishing control of their highest prized assets – their most profitable content and customers. Recently The New York Times announced it would be hosting some of its Web site content in its entirety on Facebook in turn for a share of advertising revenues.

The move has raised a number of eyebrows and concerns that cannot be ignored including the publisher’s loss of behavioural analytics and advertising control. It is also worrisome the effects this partnership could have on smaller publications that may fall prey to Facebook’s ever-changing news feed algorithms that can turn terabytes of traffic into mere trickles in a social media moment.

Non-traditional channels do offer a lot of benefits to publishers in terms of audience development, but it is important to understand the costs associated with diving deep into these channels.

Modest audience and revenue development

In the past four years, newsstands have gone from a channel option to a channel imperative because “everyone is there.”

And while their issue-based publishing model doesn’t offer as many opportunities to engage with new readers to substantially grow audience and revenues, they do offer a one-stop shop for readers who are willing to pay for quality content.

Maximum audience and revenue development

Paid aggregators that offer an all-access, one-subscription model for content combine the best of all worlds.

Audience development is enhanced through:

  • An inviting user interface that appeals to both traditional readers and digital natives.

  • Multiple content presentation models that support frictionless news discovery by topic, enabling less-premium brands to garner the attention of new readers.

  • Advanced digital features designed to engage readers longer, encourage discussions around news with other users, and raise the discoverability of high-value content.

Paid aggregators also:

  • Ensure content remains audit bureau-compliant and DRM-protected.

  • Offer better revenue opportunities through full cross-platform support and vertical-channel integration that can open doors to a massive global audience that publishers would have trouble reaching on their own.

Choosing the right channels

Optimising the mix of content, users, and channels is critical to maximising engagement, revenues, and profits for publishers.

By packaging a publisher’s content into bundles that serve different audiences through different channels, a publisher can open new opportunities to engage with news readers and grow revenues without cannibalising existing revenue streams.

The key to success is combining the right content strategy with the right distribution channels that will deliver a high-quality experience worthy of your most profitable reader and your brand.