Satisfying Audiences Blog

Satisfying Audiences

Behind the scenes of Toronto Star’s C$10 million niche print business

17 November 2014 · By Sandy MacLeod

The Toronto Star successfully launched a C$10 million niche print business by investing in research, using reader panels and focus groups to test concepts, making the sign-up process simple, and offering a weekly price with an auto-pay system.

In early September, Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst and author of Newsonomics, published an article in the Nieman Journalism Lab about the Toronto Star’s C$10 million niche print business.

Since the article appeared, I have had several people contact me seeking details, which I have gladly given to them.

Here is what I’ve told them.

Importantly, it is true that there are incremental profits in our print businesses. The key point, though, is that we have to think about them differently. Our opt-in approach to special print products is simple: Determine what your readers want, package it the way they ask you to, allow a long trial period, and ask for the order.

To date we have three such products, namely a television book, a puzzle book, and a New York Times supplement. All of them are very profitable.

Starweek, our legacy TV listings book, was our first approach at repackaging and offering our readers an opt-in product. We were seriously considering pulling the plug on the book because advertising revenues had dropped to the point where the book was posting a loss.

We pushed ourselves to determine how much value readers placed on the TV book. Using our reader panel, we quickly determined that while roughly 50% our readers no longer used the book (mostly opting for online/onscreen versions), the remaining 50% were not only still using the book, but were very engaged with it and found it quite valuable.

The original research convinced us to delay pulling the product and to determine if we might be able to turn the book into a profit center.

More research with the panel, prototypes, an internal working group, and focus groups finally led us to a new re-designed TV listing offering that met reader needs. What surprised many of us was that these readers did not want content, photos, a glossy cover – they just wanted TV listings and they were willing to pay.

Obviously the challenge was to decide how much to charge. Many on our team felt that because the product had been free for years that C$0.25 would be the right price. Our cost to print and distribute was about C$0.12 cents a copy.

Finally we landed on C$0.50 cents a week. Some were worried the price was too high, but it turned out we could have charged even more money.

The next hurdle was marketing this new offering. We acted on suggestions by readers and increased the listings and size of the product by more than 50%. But we still had to convince readers that Starweek was improved and worth buying. To do that, we built a detailed marketing plan, including six weeks of sampling.

The plan worked because we dramatically exceeded our most optimistic expectations. At the peak we were producing roughly 250,000 books each week to satisfied, paying subscribers.

At this point we knew we were on to a new revenue stream. We were able to forge a partnership with The New York Times and created a new product featuring international content from The Times along with a condensed New York Times Book Review feature.

We priced this offering at C$1 a week, followed a similar marketing approach we had used with the TV book and launched a large, city-wide marketing/brand campaign. This product also went over very well with a selected group of our readers, and we had our second successful opt-in product.

Our third opt-in product is a puzzle book. By now we were bullish on pricing and brought this offer to market at C$1.50 a week. Once again, our strategy worked.

The opt-in approach can be successful in any market, but there are several steps I would suggest are crucial to bringing these products to your readers:

  • Invest in research, test your concepts, and show readers prototypes of the product you will be offering.

  • Use reader panels to test concepts; the cost is much less than traditional surveys or focus groups.

  • Move to focus groups just before launch because real people will give you insights that are difficult to get at through panels.

  • Invest in marketing; the call to action here is very important.

  • Sample for at least four weeks. Six is better.

  • Make the sign-up process as simple as possible.

  • Offer a weekly price, but bill monthly through an auto-pay system (our churn on these products is incredibly low).

  • Set up a P&L for each of these offers (counting the money is really fun).

We have a number of other concepts in the works and have plans to bring additional products to the market in 2015.

One final point: The margins on this type of business are very attractive after the first year. We run all three products with less than one full-time employee. We spent heavily up front in research, marketing, and sampling costs, but the costs since then are minuscule.

One final thought: Not all new innovations in media have to be digital.


print article send to friend


blog comments powered by Disqus
About this blog

The Satisfying Audiences Blog aims to reflect print and digital content not just across platforms but extending into consumer events, non-news-related subscriptions and other audience vehicles for newsmedia companies. This blog written by INMA members is dedicated to identifying the emerging linkages between content, audiences, and platforms. The blog is an initiative by the INMA North America Division Board of Directors.


Meet the bloggers

Julie Anderson
Senior Vice President of Digital Publishing/Florida
Tribune Publishing
Orlando, Floria, USA
send message

Nadine Chevolleau
Manager
Consumer Marketing
The Toronto Star
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
send message

Kathleen Coleman
Director
Sales & Marketing
S-R Media
Spokane, Washington, USA
send message

Kevin Curnock
General Manager
Brunswick News
St. John, New Brunswick, Canada
send message

Jim Fleigner
Managing Partner
Impact Consultancy
Santa Monica, California, United States
send message

Sara Hill
President/CEO
Vividata
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
send message

Dan Johnson
Vice President,
Business Development
CirTech
Gilbert, Arizona, USA
send message

Sandy MacLeod
Chief Operating Officer, Print
The Toronto Star/Metro English
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
send message

John Newby
Publisher
Muskogee Phoenix
Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA
send message

Nicki Purcell
Chief Digital Officer and Senior Vice President of Consumer Sales
The Dallas Morning News
Dallas, Texas, USA
send message

Maria Terrell
Director of Content
PressReader
Dallas, Texas, USA
send message

New York City, New York, USA


Subscribe

RSS feed
E-newsletter


Blog archives

May 2016 ( 2 )
April 2016 ( 2 )
March 2016 ( 2 )
February 2016 ( 3 )
January 2016 ( 3 )
December 2015 ( 2 )
November 2015 ( 4 )
October 2015 ( 3 )
September 2015 ( 4 )
August 2015 ( 2 )
July 2015 ( 4 )
June 2015 ( 4 )
May 2015 ( 4 )
April 2015 ( 4 )
March 2015 ( 2 )
February 2015 ( 5 )
January 2015 ( 4 )
December 2014 ( 3 )
November 2014 ( 3 )
October 2014 ( 2 )



Blog roll

Brain Traffic
paidContent


Join INMA Today
 
Upcoming Events
Jun
17
INMA Ideas Day on Audience Development
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
17 June 2016
Aug
23
INMA International News Media Conference
São Paulo, Brazil
23-24 August 2016
Aug
30
INMA South Asia News Media Conference
New Delhi, India
30-31 August 2016
Sep
14
INMA European News Media Conference
Monaco
14-17 September 2016
Sep
22
INMA Latin American News Media Conference
Panama City, Panama
22-23 September 2016
Oct
03
INMA Business Strategies 2020 Conference
Chicago, United States
03-04 October 2016
Oct
17
INMA Silicon Valley Study Tour
San Francisco, United States
17-21 October 2016

More Events

Member Profiles

  • Jim Moroney
    United States


  • José Nicolás Mejía
    Brazil


  • Wolfgang Büchner
    Switzerland



  • Cecilia Bazán
    Argentina


  • Roger Gorrel
    Australia


  • Bill Toler
    United States



©2016 INMA | Home | About | Contact | RSS | Privacy