European publishers shared their best practices, software, and systems on Friday morning at the INMA European News Media Conference in Amsterdam.

Subscriptions, memberships, a streamlined strategy for selling small ads, and an online marketplace are some of the ways media companies have successfully changed or expanded revenue streams in recent years.

Denník N Head of Digital Tomas Bella and Steady Co-founder Sebastian Esser each touched on the emotional side of their revenue strategies with an emphasis on value perception and passion.
Denník N Head of Digital Tomas Bella and Steady Co-founder Sebastian Esser each touched on the emotional side of their revenue strategies with an emphasis on value perception and passion.

Three years ago in Slovakia, a group of journalists quit a national newspaper in protest and started Denník N, which is now making ends meet almost exclusively on subscriptions.

It’s gone well enough, according to Head of Digital Tomas Bella, that the daily news magazine and Internet portal made is first €20,000 profit in 2017, and next Monday (breaking news!) will double in size when it launches its second title in the Czech Republic. 

Denník N’s underlying philosophy is that its journalists assign themselves stories within their beats and produce only articles that they feel have value. The underlying technology is Dennik N’s custom REMP (Readers’ Engagement and Monetisation Platform) dashboard that lets the journalists see how well their content is received. REMP is an open-source system available to any publishers.

“People actually want to pay for the articles that we ourselves think are the best articles,” Bella said. “People will only pay for something that has value. So the correlation between those two is very strong. And you can see that the system worked.”

Sebastian Esser, co-founder of Steady in Germany, feels the secret to media success today is passion — and the paid memberships that passion can engender. Steady helps digital publishers monetise their content and provides technology and marketing tools for building a membership base.

He told the INMA audience it is critical to get readers invested in the source, not just the content.

“I think this is a really important differentiation,” Esser said. “We used to sell ownership in the old print days. Then we switched to access … but when you’re selling access, your content can’t be so exclusive. Then there needs to be something else. These days a lot of media don’t really tell their readers why it’s important to become a member. And outside of the media, a big membership economy is already being established. Why not embrace membership?”

After starting the membership-based magazine Krautreporter in Berlin, Esser created Steady to share his custom-built membership management platform with publishers worldwide.

“It’s about memberships, not about one-off crowdfunding campaigns. It’s about ongoing memberships and that’s why it’s called Steady,” Esser said.

Steady has been live for 18 months now and is going strong, Esser said, particularly with podcasts, newsletters, and small-team bloggers. 

Media companies don’t have to invest to use Steady. The company takes 10% of any memberships sold through the platform.

“I think the thing it boils down to is trust,” Esser said. “When there is trust between the reader and the publisher, you can sell memberships.”

Lone Søndergaard is chief operating officer of Politikens Lokalaviser, a branch of the big Danish media house that runs about 50 small, local newspapers, which rely heavily on small, local ads for revenue.

The problem she noted is that small ads can take as much back-end time and cost to manage as big ads.

“We find that it is difficult for us to keep up with the little ads with little prices because it’s still big work. It’s too expensive,” Søndergaard said. “What we want to do is minimise the cost. We don’t want to use salesforce to go out and sell these ads. We don’t want to create too much work in the back end. We want to keep the revenue in-house.”

Their solution using Danish start-up Adwonce went live in January 2018, and now lets users book, create, and pay for their own smaller display ads, obituaries, and other private notices online in as few as five steps. 

While some media companies are putting more of the sales process in readers’ hands, others are extending their sales capabilities in new directions.

In 2011, the only revenue streams at Mediahuis in Belgium were from selling content and ads. Seven years later, 10% of the publisher’s bottom line comes from selling, well, pretty much anything else. Mediahuis’ burgeoning Nieuwsbladshop “reader marketplace” offers up for sale everything from beds, books, bikes, and backpacks to restaurant gift cards, sports event tickets, and an African safari. 

The company frames this new business as a line extension (versus a brand extension) strategy. Aline Delnoy, manager line-extensions, along with Koen Meeusen, sales director readermarket, shared their top tips for success in such initiatives:

  • Define a clear objective: “You must take into consideration the KPIs and objectives of your colleagues,” Meeusen said.
  • Build an internal relationship based on agreements and trust.
  • Fail fast, learn faster: “Failure doesn’t have much impact on the results,” Delnoy said.
  • Invest in long-term partnerships.
  • Focus on the core: “We believe we are very good at communication,” so that’s what Mediahuis concentrates on bringing to the sales relationship, Meeusen said.
  • Put your customer in the centre.
  • Look for economies of scale.
  • Invest a lot in digital skills: “It’s a cliche, but it’s true,” said Delnoy.
  • Make the team lean and mean: “Mediahuis empowered everyone to make decisions,” said Meeusen.