The Independent shares e-commerce strategies for new revenue
Conference Blog | 02 November 2022
E-commerce has changed the retail environment but also is reshaping the news media environment. During Tuesday’s Webinar, INMA members learned about some of the trends in e-commerce and how it has helped the U.K. publication The Independent diversify its revenues.
The Independent’s Campbell Price, e-commerce director, and Sara Alice Recalcati, head of affiliates and e-commerce, shared their experiences and insights during the Webinar, How The Independent is shaping the future of news media with e-commerce. But first, Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of INMA, provided some perspective on how prevalent e-commerce has become in the industry.
Wilkinson shared some of the trends going on in e-commerce and said that, according to the recently released Activate Technology and Media Outlook 2023 report, about 20% of all retail sales will be through e-commerce by 2026.
“It’s going to be driven by large players [and] small players,” Wilkinson said. “You’re going to see trends that are accelerating this, like re-commerce, livestream shopping, Buy Now Pay Later, and shopping memberships.”
Already, the landscape is filled with examples of how media companies are leveraging e-commerce as a revenue stream — from Singapore Press Holdings to The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times and Vogue, companies are implementing e-commerce to engage visitors and subscribers while generating income.
Digital became the sole focus for The Independent in 2016 when it shuttered its print operations. As one of the most-read news brands in the U.K., it has been able to use e-commerce to guide its audience into commerce channels.
“Readers ultimately now can purchase products from editorial reviews,” Wilkinson said. “They work both with an affiliate and an e-commerce model. But now they have a native checkout experience.”
Strategy for selling
The Independent works with Bolt (previously known as Tipser), which employs its Checkout Everywhere technology to allow shoppers to buy natively on any surface — whether that is via a digital publication, its marketplace, social media, price comparison sites, or search. As e-commerce director, Price explained, it was essential to find revenue options beyond digital advertising.
“The Independent has looked to really diversify its revenue sources,” he said. The group prioritised first-party data acquisition and invested in its anonymous-to-known strategy. That move paid off: The Indy — as it’s widely known — doubled its reader registrations to 1.8 million and increased reader revenue by 39% in the fiscal year 2021. It is on track to double again this year and has also expanded into TV offerings to bring all of its video content together in one place.
Although the company has been using e-commerce since it pivoted to digital in 2016, the pandemic accelerated the business: “We are now on track for further revenue growth of another 40% in our financial year, 2022,” Price said. “Essentially, this diversification has meant that we are on track as a group … to make sure that half of our revenue comes from non-advertising sources in our financial year 2022.”
One thing The Indy has focused on this year is providing more information to readers to help them make better-informed decisions on their purchases. “That also meant for us to look to better ways to improve conversion and the profitability of all of the content that we create, which has led to things like the partnership with Bolt,” Price said.
As it has diversified, The Indy has created options such as a traveller Website, which offers hotel reviews and helps people research and book hotels.
“It’s still early days for that, and we look forward to doing more of that in the coming years,” Price said. “While the traditional retail side of e-commerce is strong and hugely important, we’re also looking at other content areas that can complement and provide other opportunities to create revenue streams.”
Adding commerce to content
Recalcati explained that The Indy’s trusted reviews on products and services placed it in a good position to leverage e-commerce, but its partnership with Bolt turbocharged operations.
“We created a seamless shopping experience, one that takes our readers from Independent product reviews directly to checkout without the need to open a million tabs and jump from one Web site to the other,” she said. “This adds to our already existing services like price comparison, widgets, and vouchers that make our readers’ lives a little easier when looking for the best deal in terms of affiliates and e-commerce.”
The company’s strategy hasn’t changed in terms of how it approaches content, she said. It simply has added a direct connection to make purchasing easier for readers. And while that has enhanced the relationship with customers, it has had a bonus effect: “This also means a closer relationship with brands, too, so that we can work together to find the best products and offers for our customers.”
To launch the new approach, Recalcati said The Indy created an awareness campaign to make it clear to readers that the editorial content would have the same unbiased reviews and that its writers would only promote the best products.
Then, in addition to promoting the initiative onsite, it conducted offsite promotions through its social media channels and weekly newsletters — which have a combined reach of about 16.5 million, Recalcati said: “This is to make sure that all readers that come to our site, whether by newsletters, by social search, or onsite browsing are aware of our new solution and how this can benefit them.”
The Indy sees e-commerce as a complement to its existing affiliate programmes, not a substitute for them, she said: “We see e-commerce and Bolt solutions as complementary to our existing affiliate model. The addition of this new solution to our portfolio is a great way to diversify our revenue streams and have the opportunity to transact directly with our most engaged audience and get to know them better.”
It also provides the company with the opportunity to reach out to brands that are not in the affiliate space yet, she said: “I would say that it will allow us to work with more brands than ever before. And having affiliate and embedded e-commerce gives us the necessary flexibility to offer our readers a wider choice.”
Planning for the future
Moving forward, The Indy will look to further diversify its e-commerce revenues across chosen verticals.
“Across all of the revenue streams within e-commerce and around the rest of the business, we’ll be looking for opportunities to work more directly with our readers,” Price said. Over the next five years, he said, advertising will still play a big part, but e-commerce and reader revenues will continue growing to supply a larger percentage of The Indy’s overall revenues. He also sees more opportunities for video to generate revenue.
Recalcati added that mobile will also play a significant role in the growth, as it already accounts for a large portion of digital online sales: “I think focusing more on mobile social is definitely going to be a big part of, specifically, e-commerce in what we’re going to do in the next five years.”