Playing the media dating game: PressReader on how to attract more readers and more revenues



PressReader turns 20 years old in May. The company works with more than 6,000 newspaper and magazine publishers from 100 countries around the world to distribute content to the platform’s global audience. In an age when reader retention is becoming an increasingly important priority for publishers around the world, the company places a high emphasis on helping media owners to build meaningful relationships with consumers.

Last month at the 2019 Digital Innovators Summit (DIS) in Berlin, EVP, chief content officer and general counsel for PressReader, Nikolay Malyarov, spoke about the need for publishers to move towards a reader-centric focus. Here, he explains why online dating is a useful comparison for understanding what a successful content creator-consumer relationship should look like in the modern age. 

“Well think of dating,” says Malyarov. “What’s the first thing that you do when you’re on a dating site? You get in touch with a person. You find out who they are, what they are, what makes them tick. What are the synergies? What are the common interests? Where are you complimentary to that person? It’s that deep understanding of each individual person that publishers have to do. But in a way that doesn’t creep them out… and that’s an important element!”

“And then you develop the relationship, just like in dating. You get to know somebody, then you become friends, then you become infatuated with that person, then you become engaged in them, then a longer term commitment. That’s the ultimate goal of dating, right? What we’ve added to the mix is that yes as a publisher, you can build those one on one relationships with a fair number of readers, but not with all of them. Not every reader is going to commit to you on a long term basis. But they still want the content. They still want to discover new things. And so, the question then comes up, well who’s going to pay for access to that content?”

“And that’s when you bring in the brands, who want to pay on behalf of the passengers, patrons, travellers or what have you. The publishers win because their content gets discovered and monetised. The brands build very meaningful relationships with their readers as well, because they provide them something of tangible value and allow them to explore the product that is now associated not only with the publisher, but also with that brand. And the reader is happy because they got at the end of the day what they wanted, what they sought.”

It’s an idealistic sounding concept for content success, but one which Malyarov offers a tangible example of: 

“Imagine you are flying British Airways. Yes, you have an interesting relationship with British Airways, which is very consumeristic, very transient. You bought a ticket, you get on a flight, you get from Point A to Point B.”

“However, as an airline there is more that you can do to reward the passenger for choosing BA as their airline. That benefit is giving them more personalised access to content. Not two or three newspapers that they would have at the gate or at the lounge, but you may not necessarily speak English. They’ll give you a version in Chinese, a version in French, and you get to keep it. The airline just provided something that, if you were to go out on the street, you would have to pay for – now it’s bundled into your ticket.” 

At a time when the latest industry fashion is to talk about pivoting towards ‘reader generated revenues’, Malyarov reminds us that not all consumers are prepared to pay a subscription fee, and certainly not for every single publication they read. As so often proves to be the case when we return to the core principals of content distribution, balance – and consumer choice – is key.  

“In a world where only a certain percentage of the readership is prepared to pay for content, our focus has been over the past several years to find other sponsors of that content. That’s why we’ve built relationships with hotel groups, airlines, cruise ships, libraries, coffee shops, health care, age care centres, etc. They pay for that content.”

“As a passenger, as a traveller, you get access to that content. Suddenly you have been thrown into a product that seemingly has a lot of content in it. But as an end user – and this is where our tech expertise comes in – you don’t have to sift through it. You don’t have to go and find something. Our job is to understand you as a reader and to surface the relevant content up to the top, where you become engaged with it.”

“Now, imagine you are interested in fishing or what have you. You discover that a particular publication is writing a lot about what you’re into, fly fishing for instance. So at some point you might want to say right, well what can this publisher do for me as a reader? Is it just providing this content that I will read on a one off basis, and in which case the aggregated, curated platform is a way forward for me. Or do they offer me some sort of membership benefit? Do they invite me to events? Is there more that they can give me or something that’s unique to that publisher, which will make me as a reader think is it worth me investing into a one on one relationship with that publisher and purchase a subscription or purchase a membership. And that’s the benefit to the publisher.”

In many ways the PressReader system offers an additional approach to revenue generation, in the same way that we have seen publishers explore the likes of micro-payments and tiered subscription models in more recent years. As traditional media owners look for alternative ways to bypass, if not take on, the Google-Facebook duopoly online, Malyarov highlights the fact that for premium publishers providing premium content a focus on the specific needs of the end user remains crucial. We ended by asking him where he saw some of the key focusses for the industry being for the rest of 2019 and into 2020. 

“You know, I may disagree with others who place so much emphasis on VR and AR as the next big thing. I think the time will come for those things to become more mainstream and a mass used product.”

“I think for 2019 and 2020, those are going to be the years of user retention. So we’ve built the community of readers, great, now how do we retain those readers? You know what they say is that the cost of customer acquisition is high, and oftentimes you don’t get the return on the investment that you’ve placed into customer acquisition. So what are the ways in which you’re engaging with the reader? Both in terms of content, and in terms of how you are communicating in a way that will make the reader stay longer?”

“So as a company our focus has been on engagement with all the content that we aggregate. It’s the relevancy that’s important, the discovery, certainly the user experience within the product, and that’s some of the major changes that we’ve been making to the product line to ensure that you don’t have to do the work.”

“For example, if I look at the kind of surprise and delight that I as the user get from Spotify’s Discover Weekly. They’ve built a product that has a free registration as well as the paid for option and to me yes it was about the lack of advertising on the paid option, that was one of the reasons why I subscribed. But it wasn’t just that. It was the fact that Spotify understands me so well that every Monday they publish Discover Weekly and give me 30 songs, some of which I know and some of which I will be hearing for the first time. This sort of experience really forces me to come back, but in a way that I’m looking forward to doing – so that’s the focus for us as a company.”   



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