Premium Digital Content: Viewpoints, (Hair) Videos, and More

Should a publisher’s success be measured solely on generating revenue? “There are different ways of measuring success.  If you’re ad driven, numbers matter, but there is also another metric: are you reaching that audience you want and are you reaching your influencers?” says Lauren Brown, Special Projects Editor for Quartz. Shocking? Not really!  As organizational structures, workflows, and distribution models evolve, publishers and media companies must build and leverage communities of influencers (bloggers) to effectively engage audiences and maintain brand value. And, yes, that can be (almost) as good as revenue.

Premium Digital Content panelists (l to r) Doak Sergent, Associate Publisher and Head of Brand Development at W; Lauren Brown, Special Projects Editor for Quartz; and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor at Tor Books.

That was just one of the key messages delivered last week as the NYU SPS Publishing Student and Publishing Alumni Associations and the NYU SPS Center for Publishing hosted a lively panel discussion entitled “Premium Digital Content: Creating, Marketing, and Monetizing Your Way to Success.” The panel was moderated by Laura Begley Bloom, Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Travel (and now an NYU SPS adjunct professor teaching Editing Creative Content).  In addition to Lauren Brown, panelists sparking the exciting conversation were: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor at Tor Books and a founder of; and Doak Sergent, newly appointed Associate Publisher and Head of Brand Development at W. (Doak was previously Associate Publisher and Head of Brand Development & Marketing at Details and spoke about his experience there.)

Moderator Laura Begley Bloom, Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Travel

After each panelist gave a little background on themselves, Begley Bloom talked about her current position and Yahoo Travel’s plans moving forward.  Initially a commerce site, Yahoo Travel was relaunched in April 2014 as the company’s third branded magazine for its magazine creation initiative, after Yahoo Tech and Yahoo Food.

“Since we’ve launched, Yahoo Travel has become the world’s most visited travel magazine,” said Begley Bloom. “We have on average 12 million unique monthly visitors, according to comScore.  We also won the Gold Prize for Best Travel Blog by the North American Travel Journalist Association last year, which is very exciting for a new site.”

Begley Bloom kicked things off by asking how each company built and grew their communities. Nielsen Hayden spoke about how, Macmillan’s popular online community for science fiction and fantasy fans, had a unique advantage because of its existing built-in audience. This enthusiastic community was creating forums, platforms, and channels for networking since the days of pulp magazines.

“In the case of, it was really more a matter of what can we do that will cause the existing, already extremely vigorous community to come over to our side and play,” said Nielsen Hayden.

Quartz, on the other hand, which calls itself a “digitally native news outlet for business people in the new global economy,” had to produce a community network from the ground up.  “We would respond to almost every tweet and every email and just be very engaged with our readers,” said Brown.

Details took yet another approach.  Sergent’s team initially found themselves in an environment with a fragmented community of influencers. They knew they needed a bridge to connect them all in order to construct a more cohesive network.  According to Sergent, “We created a network of blogger influencers, but we continually had to build this relationship… so we created a summit designed to help them grow their businesses.” The TxT: Tech & Tastemakers Summit covered topics intended to inform and engage their influencer community.”We created a virtual community and now we were doing it real-time. It helped solidify our position in that market,” Sergent explained. Details also expanded their existing ad network to their influencers’ websites.  Remember: no matter what anyone says, monetization matters!


Panelists (l to r) Doak Sergent, Lauren Brown, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden discuss monetizing content for their brands.

To that end, Nielsen Hayden told the panel that while he considers to be essentially a large test bed for ideas and trends, it is also a great way to market Tor’s books and products. “Our sales force is able to document that when puts particular emphasis on certain books, they get a real solid boost in sales; it is a great way of selling books.  That said, we are also trying things like an original publishing novella program.”

At Quartz, it helps monetarily to have blue chip advertisers, Brown noted. This is reflected in the site’s native advertising, which has garnered some of the highest CPMs in the industry.  Quartz also produces events, a newsletter, and their own proprietary products. “We are very data driven so we launched Chart Builder years ago which is a tool our own journalists use to create charts themselves, and just this year, we launched Atlas which is a way for anyone to imbed our own charts,” said Brown.

One major theme that emerged from the conversation was the need for publishers to be nimble and quick when it comes to adapting to trends, particularly relating to lifestyle.  “The internet changed the way men interact with their world,” noted Sergent. “Men are staying single longer.  Because of social media, they are their own brands now, so that’s part of what we attribute to the growth of the men’s fashion grooming market.  You would not believe how well men’s ‘how-to hair videos’ have performed.” Brown nodded in agreement, commenting that Quartz’s audience also tends to gravitate to service content.

At the conclusion of the panel, Begley Bloom left the audience with one final thought: “Good stories and content is at the core of your businesses. You need to respect and engage your audience… and you also need to make good men’s hair videos.”

by Daniel Einhorn


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