This week, we hear from Blair Tapper, Senior Vice President at The Independent US. She talks about what her priorities have been since the brand’s US launch, what an Independent reader looks like across the pond, and why their new commercial offerings are more mission-based. She also explains why block lists create huge missed opportunities for advertisers as well as publishers.

In the news round-up, the team discuss whether altruism is the key driver of subscriptions (and which publishers can make the most of it), ask if micro news in audio is a losing bet for everyone, and chat about why women in publishing have been so poorly served during the pandemic.

The full transcript will be live here shortly, but for now, here are some highlights:

Her priorities since joining

So the biggest hurdle for us right now is awareness. Obviously we have a massive, massive US audience with about 40 million uniques. But people are still like, ‘Oh is that a UK brand? Oh, are those US consumers?’

And I think without the brand heritage that our team has in the UK, it is sort of breaking through the clutter here and establishing a really unique voice for The Independent and a justification for people to work with us in addition to other news partners that they’re already working with. But it is about adding us, and finding a unique positioning for us within a brand’s media mix.

What a US Independent reader looks like

It’s interesting, we say, is it the same as our peers in the UK? I do think there’s a lot of overlap. We tend to attract a very well educated, affluent audience who has a thirst to learn and discover. A lot of our articles are longform. We’re doing some really interesting deep dives and investigative journalism that quite honestly requires someone to read and think and digest, and we want people who are curious, and conscientious consumers to come to the site.

So when we’ve looked at a lot of data – and we’ve got an amazing pool of first-party data – and just in focus groups, we know they’re educated. We know they’re affluent. But there is this mindset behind them that is global. ‘I’m a global citizen. I’m aware of problems in the world. I want to make a change,’ and a lot of issues that for better or worse – oftentimes worse – have become politicised, especially here in the States.

I think the tone, and what’s attracted so much of our audience growth, has been this unbiased voice around issues that can be fragmented and polarising.

Commercial success across the pond

We’re super thrilled to be having a lot of the success that we’re having. When The Independent went digital a few years back, it was certainly a risk in the industry. And I think that’s led to our ability to be agile and nimble, and truly have this impact, to move forward swiftly and be profitable year over year.

We’re seeing about 30% growth across revenue and audiences, and we don’t expect that to slow down any time soon. It’s a really exciting time for us; we’re continuing to invest in new sites, we launched a Spanish language site earlier this year, and there are some additional initiatives that are coming out in 2022 around empowerment, and giving our readers opportunities to take action.

A calmer news cycle

Certainly in the lead up, in the US specifically, to last year’s election, it was a cycle unlike anything arguably we’ve seen in the world. I say to my team all the time, I hope we don’t have a traffic day like we had when lockdowns were announced, though truthfully we came close when Facebook and Instagram went down the other day and people were panicking!

So for us, really it’s about what is our audience on a day when news is just news? And yes, we’ve seen those peaks and valleys. But it’s all about stable traffic for us, and that’s what’s continued to grow. That’s really what we’re watching and monitoring and offering to advertisers.

Main story: Paywalls vs. Patronage

Do your subscribers actually want paywalled content? More and more creators are pivoting to a patronage model.

  • Simon Owens says more and more creators are pivoting to a patronage model.
  • He posed the question to his followers: would you be more likely to pay a $10/month subscription for exclusive content, or $5/month subscription where the content is free to everyone but you get a warm fuzzy feeling. Almost everyone said the second one.
  • Charlie Warzel of Galaxy Brain / The Atlantic now wrote: “From my experience, most people willing to pay for my content did so in a patronage model. Many wanted to subsidize it for others, which I thought was so rad.”
  • Judd Legum removed his paywall and took no noticeable hit to subscription numbers, currently generates $382,000 on the platform.
  • Owens pins it down to two things driving this trend: demands of content production (tough for solo creators to feed paid and free content feeds) and people subscribing to creators/publications for different reasons.
  • HOWEVER that’s not to suggest publishers should all drop their paywalls – the affinity you feel to a creator in wanting to support them isn’t going to translate to how you feel about a faceless publication (generally speaking).
  • This also ties back to a recent newsletter from Jacob Donnelly talking about monetising ‘further down the funnel’. Supporting ads with volume traffic higher up, but then developing other monetisation options for more committed members of the community.
  • PH – the real strength of this approach is it keeps options open for publishers.

News in brief:

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