June 11, 2024

CNN & Politico Are Prioritizing 1st-Party Data With Registration Wall

I spent Monday at the Renewd Summit in Washington DC and it was actually quite a bit of fun. I’m normally not the best at these events, but I met a lot of founders and operators I have never seen at any of the other media events. It was a real treat.

If you’re new to AMO or just have ignored me (that’s okay), I am hosting the AMO Summit on October 15th here in New York City. Be sure to register today.

In the age of AI, it’s more important than ever for publishers to have direct relationships with their readers. Unlike big tech companies that train users to get your content through their chatbots, Direqt helps publishers connect directly with readers with their own AI chatbot. 

Top publishers like ESPN, The Sun, Men’s Health, and The Independent use Direqt to create their custom branded chatbots from their content that are purpose-built to boost pageviews and time on site through 1:1 conversations with readers. 

Your chatbot is exclusively yours; Direqt never uses your content to train other models. Plus, thanks to our partnership with Microsoft, it’s a monetizable experience with in-chatbot ads.

There’s no coding required—just embed it on your site, and your readers can start interacting, asking questions, and discovering recommended content immediately.

Learn more about Direqt and set up a demo today.

Registration walls are a key tactic for media companies

Axios reported that CNN is rolling out a permanent registration wall in a push to acquire 1st-party data about its audience.

CNN has begun testing an expanded registration wall that requires heavy site users to create an account with a username and password to continue assessing content when they hit a certain threshold of daily articles.

More recently, it’s begun experimenting with a more stringent registration wall for its most-engaged users, prompting them to register after they’ve read around 10 articles in a day.

In May, Adweek reported that Politico was rolling out its own version of a registration wall.

The registration wall will initially let readers access up to 10 articles before asking them to share basic information with the publisher—their email, employer and job title—according to vice president of product David Smydra. 

“We are threading the needle,” Diaz said. “We don’t want to cut off the opportunity for people to sample our content and deepen their relationship with us, but at the same time, we’re not a scale play. Our audience knows who we are.”

It’s great that both publications are finally doing this. However, the fact that we are halfway through 2024 and these publications are only, just now, starting to prioritize gathering identifiable information about their audience is bizarre. For many publishers, developing a 1st-party data strategy has been a key priority. It’s a clear indication that it’s taking publishers longer than expected to get off the high-volume traffic business and prioritize a tighter relationship with the audience (ironic since Politico also has Politico Pro, which is a powerhouse business).

Better late than never, I suppose.

Nevertheless, a registration wall makes a ton of sense for both of these publications because it’ll help them to start categorizing their audience. The mistake many publishers make is they view every reader as equal. However, the reality is that some readers are worth more than others. For Politico, a reader that works in government is likely more impactful than a random voter in the middle of nowhere. For CNN, it may be a little different since it’s a much broader, general interest news site.

That said, what matters even more than just the registration information—assuming that they are asking for more than simply email—is what the audience is engaging with. Understanding what an audience is reading and consuming matters a lot when it comes to making editorial decisions and then marketing specific product offerings.

The other benefit of doing a full registration wall is that it becomes much easier when it comes time to convert to a paid product. Think about the number of steps to get someone to become a paying subscriber today:

  1. Create an account
  2. Select the subscription product
  3. Input credit card information

If you can break that into steps where the first happens ahead of anyone ever wanting to become a paid subscriber, you make the actual future subscription conversion only two steps. That reduction in friction could result in an increase in conversion.

When it comes to Politico and CNN, both are being way too passive with the registration wall. Giving 10 articles away before gathering any data is not smart. The only way to get this data is if people actually hit the registration wall, but at 10 articles, the number that achieve that has to be incredibly low.

We found the same thing when publishers were first putting up paywalls. They didn’t want to cut off their traffic, so they put the wall after 10 articles. But the only way to get a reader to convert is for them to hit the wall. So, you have to get more aggressive with gating your content—free and paid—if you’re going to get people to convert and give you the data that you need.

I suspect that, if CNN’s Mark Thompson is going to execute a similar strategy to what he did at The New York Times, 10 articles will quickly turn into one article.

There is a tradeoff, though. The more aggressive the registration, the fewer stories people that don’t convert will likely consume. And so, this does mean that ad revenue could be negatively impacted. Personally, I think it’s a necessary evil so that you have more information about your audience; however, for some of these larger brands, it might be complicated to stomach those potential reductions in ad revenue.

On the other hand, advertisers want to buy a known audience versus an unknown one, so there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to generate similar, if not greater revenue, by having a registered audience.

I was really excited to have Eric Hoffman, CEO of Hoffman Media, join the AMO podcast this week. He runs a network of publications targeted to a predominately female audience.

In this epsiode, we spoke about how the company first got its start, the various revenue streams—ads, subscriptions, and five-figure baking retreats among others—how they think about growth in the business, some of the challenges they’ve experienced, and where the company goes from here.

You can listen to the episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.

AMO PRO: Reddit Has Turned Into a Legitimate Audience Development Tool

For years, Reddit was a low-priority platform for news publishers. If an article reached its ‘front page’—effectively the top of the feed for most users—audience teams would register a huge spike in traffic. But due to the fickle nature of Reddit’s audiences and algorithms, it was largely luck of the draw whether that would happen.

But that seems to be changing now. Not only are publishers working with it from an organic perspective, those that are looking to acquire paid subscribers are now using the advertising opportunities on Reddit to target prospective subscribers. 

Read More

Active Interest Media Sells Taunton Books

Back in December, enthusiast publisher, Active Interest Media, acquired The Taunton Press, allowing it to get more scale in some of its key verticals. As part of that, AIM acquired Taunton’s books division. But this wasn’t really core to AIM’s operations, so it announced this week that it had sold Taunton Books. 

As AIM’s CEO, Andrew Clurman told A Media Operator, “after a review of the business and competitive landscape, it made sense for a larger trade industry player to be the home for the Taunton Books division.”

I expect to see more deals like this over the coming months as businesses look to streamline their operations. 

Read More

Thanks so much for reading this week’s AMO. If you have thoughts, hit reply or become an AMO Pro member for an invitation to the members-only Slack channel.

If you are looking to get your brand in front of the AMO audience, click here to learn more about advertising.