Revenue opportunities: Exploring content-led commerce

Publishers should make e-commerce a priority source of revenue as they fight for survival in the COVID-19 era, industry experts told participants during a session of WAN-IFRA’s recent Asian Media Leaders eSummit.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | September 1, 2020

Asian Media Leaders eSummit

Moderator Md Tajdin Hassan, Head of Marketing at The Daily Star (upper left); Ke Ye, Executive Editor of In Zhejiang (lower centre); and Damian Radcliffe, Professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, in discussion during the Asian Media Leaders eSummit.

Publishers should make e-commerce a priority source of revenue as they fight for survival in the COVID-19 era, industry experts told participants during a session of WAN-IFRA’s recent Asian Media Leaders eSummit.

By Alysha Chandra

E-commerce during the current global pandemic has surged in 3-4 months to a level that was not expected for 3-4 years, Damian Radcliffe, a professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, said in an overview of content-led commerce opportunities for publishers outlined in his two reports.

“COVID-19 has emphasised that revenue diversification is more important than ever,” he said, adding that the biggest online shoppers during the virus crisis are in the Asia-Pacific region, led by China and Singapore.

While ecommerce has become more ubiquitous than ever, with 31 percent of news publishers worldwide considering it an important revenue source for their business, Radcliffe said only 2 percent of publishers prioritised it as their main revenue focus.

Some media companies are using e-commerce in different verticals. In the fashion space, Marie Claire Edit and Popsugar have closed the gap between their content and e-commerce opportunities by capitalising on “shop the look” systems and editor recommended products.

BuzzFeed’s most successful ecommerce venture has been their brand extension, Tasty, which partnered with Walmart to incorporate a feature in the supermarket giant’s app that allows readers to add ingredients from a recipe into their online shopping carts.

Radcliffe also highlighted the United Kingdom’s Dennis, which has a suite of publishing brands in the motoring segment.

It offers an end-to-end customer experience, from reading reviews to buying a car and having it delivered to their home. Across the UK, 21 percent of online motoring spend is done with the company, he said.

Still, publishers should be selective, Radcliffe said, noting that e-commerce would not work for every brand and every vertical.

“E-commerce has the potential to change dynamics beyond the business side. It’s going to impact hiring practices and acquisition strategies, the nature and shape of the newsroom, as well as the relationship with the audience,” – Damian Radcliffe

The most important consideration for publishers is to preserve the trust they have cultivated with their audiences, he said. Publishers need to be transparent about the financial dynamics of any content or click-throughs on their platforms, as well as be clear about what e-commerce means for editorial policy.

“This needs to be front and centre, particularly at a time when trust in the news is really being challenged,” Radcliffe said.

From product fulfilment to choosing an e-commerce platform, partnerships are key and publishers should know the value of their data when considering a tie-up, he said.

For example, Popsugar is using insights from its audience data in a partnership with Kohl’s to trend-spot and develop a fast fashion apparel range for the department store chain.

Looking ahead, Radcliffe said the mobile phone is a primary device for e-commerce and social media platforms joining the field.

“If you want to get a sense of where this is heading, look at messaging apps like WeChat in China. I think the future for e-commerce is now in China,” he said.

Paradigm shift for Chinese publications

Ke Ye, Executive Editor of the Zhejiang Daily Press Group’s English-language website, said Chinese publications are undergoing a paradigm shift and view journalism as a creative industry with opportunities for e-commerce.

The group produces a live-streaming programme about rural issues that is a mix of news and e-commerce.

To build up a network of local presenters for the show, a “countryside presenter incubation team” provides training for hosts recruited by the Zhejiang journalists or through partnerships with local universities.

Another programme taps into China’s growing motorcycle culture to produce a lifestyle show that promotes the countryside. Content is distributed in short videos through traditional publishing networks as well as news aggregation platforms like Weibo.

The programme has even spawned events, such as the “Ride for One RMB Motorcycle Carnival,” sponsored by motorcycle makers BMW and Harley Davidson.

“The key is producing high quality content that gains the trust of the audience” and adheres to the group’s editorial policies, Ke said.

“We need to bear in mind the dark side of e-commerce and consider how it will affect our journalism,” – Ke Ye

When 60 million people in Bangladesh found themselves out of work due to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Daily Star partnered with online service start-up to embark on a content-led fundraising project called Mission Save Bangladesh.

It also partnered with more than 100 advertisers, collecting funds to provide food for families in lockdown, disinfect public spaces and support small and micro enterprises.

The success of this experience, said Tajdin, inspired the newspaper to partner with local retailer Shwapno to set up an upcoming e-commerce service.

About the author: Alysha Chandra is a third-year student at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

WAN-IFRA External Contributor