In the ongoing struggle to determine how to make money, the for-pay news industry is fixated on three key metrics:
- advertising spends;
- time spent (e.g., page views, minutes viewed);
- and reach (e.g., subscriptions, viewership).
All metrics, when properly sliced-and-diced tell a story about the trends in the business. Not surprisingly, these are of great interest to anyone getting paid by the media business — be they journalists or media buyers. What they don’t do is predict the industry’s future.
They also, by themselves, don’t tell the whole story.
Reading about how newspaper electronic subscriptions have soared by 40 percent, while interesting gossip, is merely another volley in the intercompany media PR war. What the numbers don’t immediately reveal is the actual value of each of those electronic subscribers. In many cases, it is far less than a print subscriber, but they can help attract more valuable advertising dollars to both in the long-term.
Relatedly, it’s not always a disaster when page views drop by 40 percent after a publication adopts a subscription model — if the price is right.
In Variety’s case, that means 1.3 million less pages seen. There are many reasons to explain this, and many represent good business strategy (it could be an attempt to increase time spent, improve user experience, or, more likely drive susbscriptions).
Dipping into the numbers a bit further, it’s easy to see that unique visitors have decreased much less - down about 18 percent to 609,000 from 745,000. Still not a runaway success story, but if even a tenth of those readers are subscribers, that represents nearly US$1.2 million dollars in subscription fees a month.
Those people are more loyal to the publication, and, again, there is a more valuable audience for the advertisers.
Remember business stories about the media can use facts to make a good headline, but that headline often distorts the truth.