Opportunities in audience fragmentation

The idea of audience fragmentation in the new media world (and elsewhere!) was always an interesting one. That audiences are not homogeneous and therefore have different incentives for content consumption and interaction is a simple challenge that is being addressed with increased sophistication. Two examples — one obvious, one less so — spring to mind. Both demonstrate a nuanced understanding of their audiences and the current media landscape. Intuitive as these ideas might seem, they are not easily adopted — think the Times of London and their uniform paywall which seems to eschew, among others, the audience fragmentation insight completely.

The New York Times’ metered model is a good place to start as it is probably the first sophisticated attempt by a non-niche publisher to marry the freemium model with social media realities.

Like any good online publisher knows, it’s always useful to identify specific types of visitors. For convenience sake, these can usually be broken down into three (or more) categories: fly-bys (one visit a month), regulars (up to 10 visits a month), fans (10 visits and over). These categories are flexible, of course.  A recent report by the Columbia Journalism Review cites an example of  ”a website for a 90,000-circulation newspaper” where fly-bys account for 75% of total traffic. The interesting caveat here is that these visitors are responsible for only about 20% of total pageviews, whereas the fans, unsurprisingly, produce 56% of all pageviews.

The question is then how to maximize revenues across across all audience segments, to treat each, essentially, as an audience in its own right.

One aspect of NYT’s metered model, a gutsy approach of leaving all social media originated visits as free is an intelligent solution for catering to ‘light’ users that would not fork out for subscriptions, and keeping its content relevant across the social web. Their deal with Google (and beyond) is also  a good example of understanding the importance of remaining in the search and social ecosystem.

What is especially interesting, however, is to look at analogous cases from nearby industries. One brilliant experiment aimed at redefining the way media — music, in this case — is sold across different consumer segments comes courtesy of the Kaiser Chiefs, a music band, with the help of Wieden + Kennedy London and United Agency. The concept is simple:  for £7.50 compile your own album of 10 songs from the available pool of 20, create your own artwork and present it on the Kaiser Chiefs’ website where your album version can be bought by everyone else. For every album you sell you get £1. Time will tell if this really works, and to what extent. For now, though, it’s interesting to look at the potential benefits of such a model:

1. Empower your fans to promote your work for you. This is not a new idea, various types of socially driven intangible incentives for participation/promotion are already part of the game, but the Kaiser Chiefs approach seems to be the first to actually offer monetary reward.

2. For a consumer segment that is willing to see it as such, creation and purchasing of an album becomes an investment in a real sense: you already make a profit by selling just eight albums.

3. For those that are more willing to consume than create, the process of buying an album becomes more engaging and social than before. This audience segment is also just as likely to generate word-of-mouth advocacy, just of a different kind.

The approach redefines the purchasing process by turning fans into vendors and marketing channels at the same time. The fans have always been there, have always been keen and willing to do more and engage more than just by buying an album or going to a concert. To wit: the album, in this case, does not really exist until you create it. How about that for empowerment?

Are there any lessons that publishers can learn from this example? Paper.li, for instance, though not a media outlet itself, lets you be your own publisher by pulling your Twitter feed into a bespoke online ‘newspaper’. Can legacy publishers do something similar and let you curate your own versions of their publications on daily basis? The uptake, I think would be huge, and the social ROI would likely move onto a whole different level.

Finally, it’s interesting to see these examples not merely by way of creation of new taxonomies from which to maximize revenue, but also as a way of flipping the risky business of marketing and discovery tools to your advantage.

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