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Ecommerce outlets are the best platform to monetise your content and community

Gerrit Klein, CEO of Ebner Verlag, on how the company's content and commerce strategy drastically scales reader revenues.

We as publishers certainly would be tempted to agree that the main asset of every magazine media business is content: text, pictures, videos, podcasts (and with the content the staff who produces it). We may publish ads in between or around these messages. However, without content there is no environment for ads to be placed; ads always are secondary revenues, let’s not forget that. Content is the one asset we really are in control of. But are we monetising it efficiently?

I would say: no. Because the role of the newsstand dwindles, fewer copies are sold year after year. People’s willingness to subscribe is decreasing. Paid website content is a strategy whose implementation at most magazine media companies is constantly two years away. And the iPad lost its appeal as publishers’ secret weapon, tablet magazine sales have flattened out and so have the device sales of Apple tablets alongside larger Android units.

It’s a paradox: our reach has grown tremendously in the last 10 years - we have access to more readers and potential users than ever before. By means of multi-platform publishing, we spread content through portals, blogs, social media, webinars, seminars, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, podcasts and videos. We truly have become multi-dimensional media companies with complex workflows and conflicting strategic parameters. But the more people we reach the less money we receive per user. 

Ecommerce using credit card ()

Getting into ecommerce

Let’s have a look at the Ebner Media Group. Our 200 year-old company (a privately held family business in its eigth generation) produces special interest and business information across a range of 80 niche magazines and 40 niche websites. In other words: we are servicing niche audiences with special interest content. Evergreen content that’s valid for many years and delivers immediate service or benefits is far more important for these niche target groups than news. Therefore, we have a real opportunity to reuse original content many times because its shelve life is long. We can offer this content digitally just in time when someone needs exactly this information. But just to offer it would not satisfy us. We want to sell it. Hence we launched an ecommerce platform.

There is a chain of action that we follow through at all our niche brands. One example: a user searches for a specific piece of information, either on Google, forums, blogs, large websites or elsewhere. We think that as a first goal, our content has to be detectable on Google’s first page, that it positions number one to 10 (ideally one to five on both mobile and desktop devices). SEO is a must, there’s no escape; every editor is also an SEO editor. But if our content is really specific and unique – why should we give it away for free? Our second goal therefore is to sell content. Accordingly, we decided to build a shop system which allows us to put a price tag on really unique pieces of content. We are reusing once produced content, rebundling and repackaging it and offering it through the shop. The task of our transaction editors (I described their job in a former article, here) is to guide the user towards these content products. Through attached call-to-action elements we motivate the user to act. 

Results

And it really works. In 2014 our shop related revenue increased by 480 per cent! We sold more than 150,000 items through the shop and realised a seven-digit revenue. That revenue is already growing faster in 2015, some of our brands are nearing the 50/50 revenue share of ads/content revenues.

We consider our company today as a shop-centered enterprise. Ebner is no longer just a media company, we’re now a content, commerce and services company. Everything we do – apart from advertising – has to be connected with the shop. We rebundle interrelated pieces, or information units, and offer them as e-dossiers or e-books. We disassemble extensive content pieces into their minimum information units, distribute these pieces throughout all channels we own and every piece of free content triggers readers to visit our shop to purchase the full content package or related information units. We connect every item in the shop through shop widgets with our portals and blogs; this system was built in-house but is based on standard content systems and ecommerce infrastructure that any media company could readily use. If a shop product is matching a digital content somewhere on our 40 portals and blogs we display a message directly within this content with a strong call-to-action element. This process is fully automated and steered through algorithms which provide real time relevancy. If you will we leverage data to its fullest extent and connect it with our content and commerce systems. Millions of content or commerce messages are delivered to our readers every month, driving traffic towards our shop.

Life without ecommerce?

Without the shop, we would have missed the opportunity to monetise our content in a different way. We are now able to sell content in a digital format, triggered through an algorithm-based automatism. Furthermore we began to sell related products. These may be books from other publishers, accessories, merchandising items. Basically there are no limits for additional shop products once we have reached the target audience through content. Because it is essentially that: content is the foundation of it all. People search for it, consume it, need it, buy it or buy related products. And so as a medium sized content, commerce and services company we can rightly say that today we have begun to employ content marketing for ourselves. 

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