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How Xing is innovating in paid for content

AT DIS 2018 one of the hottest topics was the future of paid for content. As Juan Señor of Innovation Media Consulting said in his presentation, “if it is valued, if it is unique, if it is something you can't get anywhere else, and if it speaks to their passions, makes them smarter, gives them advantages, and entertains them, then much like everything else that does that, readers should pay for it.”

One of the tricky questions for publishers then is ‘how do you promote paid for content, especially if you are not going to give any part of it away?’

A lot of eyes in the industry are now carefully watching an experiment that Xing, the German based social network for professionals, have been conducting over the last nine months.

After four years of driving a very successful content-based approach it is now offering media companies a chance to offer both subscription and one off fee articles via its network.

It is early days and it is fascinating experiment. At DIS 2018 I caught up with Thomas Schmidt-Broer, principal content and publisher partnerships, XING News, to find out more.

 

Thomas_Xing ()

Thomas Schmidt-Broer. Photo: Twitter/@schmidtbroer

 

Explain briefly what Xing is, and what are the key differences between Xing and LinkedIn.

Xing is a professional network you use to connect with people from the same industry, or people you know from former days. You can also use it for your business, contacting people, selling things etc. Or you can promote yourself or your business or find a new job.

So in many ways this is similar to LinkedIn.

People also however come to Xing for content. Four years ago, we focused on trying to drive more activity on our platform. We started to curate news services and made them relevant for specific industries. So we now curate news for 25 industries.

The industries include; logistics, pharmaceuticals, medicine, economics, management, marketing, media, and so on. Each group has lots of members. The biggest one is management, which involves 1.5 million members. The smallest one is design, but even that has over 200,000 members. After four years, content is the main activity driver on Xing.

 

Xing news offer ()

 

So, is the content largely German language, or is there some English language, or a mixture of both?

Yes, it’s a mixture of both. We send out a daily email to about six million people from these 25 industries, and it’s the same selection of news on the platform. So, you can go to Xing on the platform, on the app, or read the email.

And do you create any content yourself to put on there?

We have 10 articles a day in each newsletter, and five are German, (from German publishers), and two are international, invariably from the UK or US. This can change sometimes. For example in design, we rely more on English language resources as in Germany there’s just one or two publishers for design. So there are usually seven selected, curated articles, and one is about Xing’s main competence, career and jobs, but still from a third party.

Then we create our own articles. We have an editorial team of six people. We ask if there’s a topic on an industry or for a larger group – to discuss. For example refugees, getting to work, or about about the women’s pay gap, etc. We decide what is a good topic for our audience, where our experts and interested people will have something to talk about. And we have this editorial debate format, where we try to get three to six experts involved so that we are having a 360 discussion. Their opinions vary too from left to right, from liberal to progressive, to conservative. Each article in general receives about 250-300 comments – and good comments too.

Then we have our “insider programme” like the influencer programme from LinkedIn. So, if you’re a influencer and people like your opinion, and the topics you cover, you can create content of your own. We have about 300 experts regularly writing an article every two weeks. This is our own content. And we have talks, where we interview experts from an industry about different topics.

You’ve recently started to experiment with giving publishers the opportunity to offer paid content. Where did that idea come from, why now? Have we reached a tipping point for paid for content?

Firstly we want to offer the most relevant content for our users. They want to know everything about their industry - what people are talking about. However more and more publishers are producing paid content, so they don’t get to see everything. And if we promise: “hey, if you subscribe for an industry newsletter then you will get everything that is relevant in your industry!” then it’s not really true, because if you send people to a paywall, they don’t tend to read content, they exit.

So it made sense to offer a payment opportunity. We ask the users to register one time. Many of the people who are active in the news area are premium members and paid members, so we already have this payment information, so it’s just a one-click solution. So if we trust a company, and it is a convenient solution, combined with the access to paid content, it sounds like a good idea. Maybe this is a tipping point? It’s: “OK, I’m a regular here, I see this is good content behind a paywall, but it’s just one click”. Maybe this is the missing ingredient for success for paid content?

 

Xing news ()

 

So how, physically, do you operate the system then? What happens if I’m a consumer – I come across content, then what happens?

Well, we promote this paid content in our existing infrastructure, so as a publisher you can create your company page and then you can offer your paid content. We select this content by article, so every (piece of) content you offer is not a subscription model, it’s a pay-per-use model. You can buy an article, then offer a subscription, but the first content is a paid article.

We put a link in the newsletter and then we can use our huge base – about six million people - to publicise it. As a reader when you see it your first comment is “OK, this is a selection of the articles, and – oh wow – this is a ‘News-Plus’ labelled article. So OK, this is a paywall, I know it”. When I click I see an abstract – about 500 characters, so I can read what the article is about. Sometimes we have videos, for example, a 30-minute learning video about leadership. So once you have set up your details  it’s just a one-click solution.

So typically, how much are you charging? And what’s the split? Is it 50/50, or more in your favour, or in the publisher’s favour?

The responsibility of the pricing is on the publisher’s side. So, they create the product, what they offer on our platform, and the pricing. We consult – we want maybe a small product, we do not want the whole product, the whole publishing offer. The share is 70 per cent for the publishers, 30 per cent for us. The average price for us on the platform is €2.39 (US$2.85). So it’s a very high price.

Because it’s specialised content?

Yes. We want to offer access to a single article, but this is not – hopefully the goal of the publisher – they want to sell a subscription. So it’s a prohibitive, expensive price. For example, we have a partnership with Die Welt, it’s the same monthly subscription price of €9.99 ($12), but they do not offer a single article price on their platform. But if you want to have access to a single article on our site, it’s 79 cents ($0.95). It’s expensive, because the daily print of their [paper] is around €1 ($1.20).

 

Xing Thomas ()

 

And what content is most successful – is it very niche content within specific industries, or is it broader, longer and deeper stuff around the financial industry?

Interesting question. Well, our idea was that we wanted to offer very niche content. So we when we tested the system we pushed out content aimed at professional, engineers who specialise in automotives from the Frankfurt area. The article was about 10-12 pages and focused on the efficiency of car engines, with data, and scaling, etc. But very, very specialised, and a high price – up to about €8 ($9.60) per article. Previously you couldn’t buy this article on its own, you have to subscribe for maybe €100 ($119) a month.

It didn’t work, we just sold two or three articles per month. Maybe because it’s too specialised, and the specialists are already subscribers.

So what is working? Educational content. “What’s in it for me for getting better skills? What is really good about career, about leadership, and learning?” So we have videos from Zeit Akademie, from the leading negotiation or communications expert, which are very popular. People are starting with one lecture for €9.99 ($12), and thinking “oh, this is good”, so they buy the whole seminar. So, the most popular content is what’s good for my career, what’s good for my skills. Then, what is good for my personal life? Health, insurance, savings, etc,

Do you have any steer as to who is actually paying for the content? Is it individuals, or is it their companies?

Most are freelancers and entrepreneurs. Sixty per cent of our buyers are freelance or entrepreneurs.

So when did you go live?

In June last year, starting with a beta offering. We had some videos from Zeit Akademie, for e-learning for personal skills and we had the general interest newspaper Die Welt for daily information. We also had some special content, too.

And, now we are know what people are interested in. It’s maybe high-price content that helps them to better themselves and further their career.

Now we have our single articles, we have our monthly pass and we have the unlimited subscription.

A lot of people at DIS are talking about ‘a renaissance in paid content.’ So it sounds to me like you’re experimenting with it at the right time.

Correct. We’re watching the news market, and I think it’s time for a proper solution for the news publishing area. We want to offer the idea that this is the best content, and this is a solution between publisher and the user.

And the best solution is maybe to get access by article, if the publisher wants to offer that, or maybe it’s a flat fee. Maybe it’s not €9.99 ($12), because it’s cheap, maybe it’s €20-25 ($24-30) per month? But I think in 2-3 years, the time is coming for the flat fee. Not today, because every publisher’s hoping “ok, I’ll get a lot of money in the initial subscription area”.

And we always share our information. So, our understanding is we are partners for succeeding in this market – we don’t want to get something from the publisher, we want to do it together. This is the main idea about it, and hopefully more and more publishers are jumping in. We always try to say, “hey, what is your idea? Can we do something different? We are open to new ideas, as a partner for the publisher – as I say there’s a need for content distribution money, and motivation.

 

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Download the DIS 2018 speaker presentations

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Hearst’s global president of digital on the evolution of lifestyle brands online

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