Beyond the Book with Women’s Media Group

How Authors, Publishers and Agents are Developing New Revenue Streams

To help their authors make a splash and to stay financially viable, publishers are on the hunt for additional revenue streams. They’re launching ad-supported podcasts with authors as experts, teaching online courses, partnering with brands, and more. And last week in Penguin Random House’s Maya Angelou Auditorium, Women’s Media Group gathered several heavy hitters who have track records helping authors in this arena. The panelists discussed developing content that audiences want while maintaining an authentic feeling of connection. Here’s a taste of what they covered:

Pay attention to your audience at all stages

Christy Fletcher, founder of Fletcher & Company, described her approach to creating new revenue streams for her author clients as creating a “noisy, robust launch while listening closely to the audience.” This means paying attention to what platforms they are using, what questions they are asking, and what other media they are consuming. Then, she is better able to amplify the work her authors are already doing and give that audience new material that they will enjoy.

Kathy Doyle, VP of Podcasts at Macmillan rigorously researches before committing seriously to a new venture. Before she started working with Ellen Hendricksen on what would become The Savvy Psychologist, Doyle and her team had already conducted a study to determine that psychology was of interest to their pre-existing audience. With that audience insight in place, she was able to confidently launch a new project with the assurance that there was an audience waiting for that content.  

But the research doesn’t stop there. Doyle advised the audience to keep track of podcast appearances or online tutorials in a marketing and publicity calendar so that when publishers see a spike of interest, they can better trace it back to specific timing and strategy and replicate it in future efforts.

Scaling intimacy

During the Q&A, audience member Leah Siepel, founder of Leah Siepel Courses asked the panel about scaling intimacy with larger online courses. She told the audience that in her own work building online courses for clients, courses with higher degrees of contact between the educator and the audience led to higher course completion rates. She wanted to know how to build bigger audiences without sacrificing the personal attention that leads to greater end-user satisfaction. The panelists all agreed that this is a challenge when growing audiences, and that successful online courses must be more engaging than a video of someone talking for 30 minutes.

Christy Fletcher described how she and Gretchen Rubin tackled this issue for The Happiness Project Experience, an immensely popular year-long course with a waiting list. They created smaller groups of participants within the wider course, using a cohort-based model with monthly modules and live call-ins to help members feel more connected to each other and to Rubin. Moderator Stephanie Bowen suggested filming lessons in front of a live audience to help viewers feel more like a part of an active learning community. Bowes suggested working with a company like Creative Live. Joan O’Neil, Vice President at Skillsoft Books, incorporates visuals to give online courses more of a Ted Talk feel. With options like live call-ins, production companies creating live lessons, and more, it’s possible to create truly dynamic and engaging online courses that resonate with viewers.

Podcast revenue model changes

Kathy Doyle described the changes that are happening in podcast advertising. Currently, most podcasts use live-read ads where hosts read ad copy for a product. This method capitalizes on the intimacy that podcast listeners feel when they hear a host speaking directly into their ears. Ads read by hosts feel like recommendations from a friend. However, as Doyle noted, the process of matching podcasts to products to create natural-sounding ads is both highly manual and highly time-consuming. Plus, podcast listeners are quick to recognize when an ad doesn’t sound natural or doesn’t fit with the host’s brand. Podcasts are beginning to go the way of digital advertising more broadly, which is to say programmatic. Increasingly, brands will be able to buy podcast audiences rather than listeners to a specific show. Programmatic advertising is show-agnostic, meaning that it will be able to, for example, target young urban parents who are likely to purchase a meal kit subscription rather than all listeners of The Racist Sandwich.

With any effort to build in new revenue streams or platforms for authors, the key is to listen to what their audience wants and to provide an engaging and authentic experience.

Speakers

  • Kathy Doyle, Vice President, Podcasts, Macmillan Publishers
  • Christy Fletcher, Founder and CEO, Fletcher & Company
  • Joan O’Neil, Vice President, Skillsoft Books
  • Moderator: Stephanie Bowen, Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms, Penguin Random House

Women’s Media Group, founded in 1973, is a New York-based nonprofit association of women who have achieved prominence in many fields of media. Their 250-plus members, drawn from book, magazine, and newspaper publishing; film, television, online and other digital media, meet, collaborate, inform and support one another as well as mentor young women interested in publishing careers. They seek to advance the position of all women through the power of communication and media. Find out about their upcoming events here.

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Developing a data strategy with the DIKW Model

We all know that data matters. But for publishers looking to become more data-savvy, it can be hard to know where to start, especially when we are often dealing with qualitative data. Which metrics are important? How do you incorporate data collection and analysis into your workflow? Finding yourself with a glut of data and no real way to interpret or incorporate it isn’t much better than no data at all.

Frameworks for data collection and analysis can help. They provide structuring principles to guide publishers who are developing a data strategy. One that we’ve been thinking about since we attended the Firebrand Community Conference is the DIKW model.

DIKW stands for Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom. The pyramid structure represents a process of refining raw data into actionable insight.

Data refers to information in its raw form. This broadest and lowest tier of the pyramid represents the whole glut of information that’s available to you. In this system, data has no context, but is readily available. It needs to be interpreted.

Information begins the interpretation process by putting that information in context. This might mean answering the who, what, when, where, and why’s of the data from the first block of the pyramid.

Knowledge puts the information you have in context. It might link the information you’ve already gained earlier in the pyramid to other pieces of information or take into account trends or events that happened around the same time as the pieces of information were gathered. This block of the pyramid looks at how the information you have fits into a more global view of a project or an industry.

Wisdom, at the top of the pyramid, is what you do with the knowledge you have. Wisdom determines the path forward given the ways you have interpreted the data. Ultimately, when publishers say that they want to be data-driven, they mean that they want to get to this point of the pyramid, where their next steps are guided by data insights.  

Let’s see this in action with a famous literary example.

  • Data: 031544
  • Information: This is a date – March 14, 44 BCE
  • Knowledge: There was a prophecy (at least in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) to “beware the Ides of March.”
  • Wisdom: If you’re Caesar, consider calling in sick to the Senate.

Now, let’s put it in terms of the information available to publishers within their NetGalley accounts.

  • Data: 589, 82018, 2304, 011819
  • Information: 589 and 2304 are impression counts for two different titles, Title A and Title B. 82018 and 011819 are the dates that each of the titles went live on NetGalley. Title A went live on August 20, 2018 and Title B on January 18, 2019.
  • Knowledge: Both titles were listed as Nonfiction (Adult) and Biographies & Memoir in NetGalley. The publisher booked an eblast for Title B that went out to all NetGalley members who are interested in the Nonfiction category.
  • Wisdom: By comparing two similar titles that fared differently on NetGalley, we can see two differences immediately. Title A was put on NetGalley in the end of summer when many members are on vacation, meaning that they might be less likely to be at their computer requesting new titles to read. The publisher might consider putting titles up earlier in the summer so that members can read them on vacations, or later in the fall when business-as-usual has resumed. Additionally, we can see that booking an eblast seems to have had a huge effect on impressions, which can help the publisher determine where to best spend ad dollars in the future.

The DIKW paradigm isn’t the end-all, be-all of data-centered decision making. Some critics have pointed out that the pyramid is too rigid and hierarchical. We certainly see their point, and recognize that flexibility is a crucial aspect to successful decision-making.

DIKW is best thought of a starting point – a structure that can be tweaked. It’s a way to begin to think about what data points you as a publisher need to be collecting, what context will help make those data points meaningful, and how you can take that information with you into the future. For publishers who are in the process of asking themselves what it means to be data-driven, the DIKW pyramid is a great place to start.

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