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Know your “unit economics” to reshape revenue and content

Newsrooms need relevant metrics that connect their work with the business's bottom line, which often requires pulling data from various nooks and crannies in the organization. Sharing data regularly, with routines to guide that sharing, makes it clear how editorial decisions can contribute to the financial performance of the overall team. This primer on what to measure and how to socialize those metrics with the newsroom demonstrates tactics for bridging functional roles within a news organization.

News organizations have to discern what’s better for the the bottom line, whether 48,000 page views or 1 subscription, often without measuring the revenue from each. Teams can reorient their work to earn the wrong attention if they don’t understanding the relative reward for page views or subscriptions. Thankfully, there are handy metrics to ground editorial decisions in healthy financial outcomes.

Matt Skibinski encourages journalists to have a handle on the basic financial impacts of their work, so they can refocus efforts on coverage that generates the most revenue (and allows lower-level decision making in a mini-publisher way as outlined in Table Stake #7). Qualitatively, that coverage follows an audience-centric model, rather than incentivizing click-chasing.

[W]e know that the coverage that attracts and retains subscribers is often different from the reporting that generates the most pageviews. … More generally, users who subscribe tend to prefer reporting that is distinctive, local, and relevant to their daily lives over stories that are sensational or a rewrite of news they’ve seen elsewhere.

Skibinski introduces the business concepts of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and Digital Ad Revenue per 1,000 page views (RPM) as tools to help editors and reporters make performance-driven decisions. The trick, he notes, is pulling the data out of silos and into the everyday work of everyone on the team. To make that a newsroom reality he replacing page views with metrics that directly relate content and subscription in the following regular routines:

  • Socialize key “unit economics” metrics
  • Report on what pieces are driving subscription
  • Report on subscribers’ content consumption
  • Map and report on content ranked by its influence on subscription

For an advanced course on paywalls, pay meters, and the audience behavior that drives them, read Lenfest Institute’s Digital Pay Meter Playbook.