How to use archive content to create value for paying audiences

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There is a limit to how many digital news subscriptions people will pay for. Publishers can create added value to attract and retain paying audiences by repurposing and repackaging evergreen archive content.

The takeaways

Publishers have put digital subscriptions front and centre in their revenue strategies. But, as the paid-content space gets busier, readers will begin to become more selective about where to spend their money. Differentiation will become a key focus for publishers.

  • News is a highly competitive publishing sector online; even breaking news has become a commodity. Larger organisations tend to have the advantage with the resources to research and report the biggest stories. 
  • Publishers looking to build a robust subscription base need to find ways to differentiate their offering from competitors. Cooking and puzzles have worked to broaden the New York Times’ subscription offer, but that represents significant investment.
  • For most publishers, operating within real-world budget constraints, the most practical and most profitable differentiation strategy will be based on existing core content.
Make it once, sell it forever

The old software sales adage, build it once, sell it many times, is very relevant to digital publishers. Content that has been previously published and then archived still has a value, especially among niche audiences with a passion for the subject matter.

  • 1,400 back issues of National Geographic are each presented to potential subscribers with their own landing pages, attracting readers interested in specific topics rather than the latest issue. The top 100 articles are accessible ‘geographically’ via a map interface.
  • Esquire magazine has repacked its archive under the Esquire Classic sub-brand, allowing subscribers to revisit past publications or read individual articles by its most famous writers, including Ernest Hemmingway, Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion.
  • Even in print, magazine publishers are finding revenue in repurposed content. The Bookazine business at Meredith Magazines published more than 300 titles last year. A cross between books and magazines, the publications are sold at a premium and focus on popular themes from established magazine brands.
Audio adds value

Repurposing text is just the beginning for publishers looking to make the most of their evergreen content. Audio technology in particular is creating opportunities to present old content in fresh new formats.

  • Playboy magazine plans to launch a podcast featuring dramatizations of its archive of almost 500 interviews. Hour-long episodes will have actors re-enacting some of the magazine’s most iconic conversations, including with Martin Luther King and John Lennon.
  • More prosaically, Scottish publisher DC Thomson has created a podcast series around household tips from the 1950s. It is based on the Pass It On column from The Sunday Post and discusses the household tips housewives of the 50s wanted to share.

News gets much of the attention when it comes to digital subscriptions, but paid content doesn’t have to be new content.

Journalists and editors don’t generally get into publishing to rehash old stories. But charging for archive access allows publishers to unlock the value in their historic assets. Clever curation can resurface the very best from a publication’s past. Readers will pay for content packages built around their research needs or their passions.

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