A media company known for supermarket magazines is upending the digital publishing model

Kim Kardashian

  • Bauer Xcel Media US wants to be at the forefront of using data and analytics.
  • The US digital offshoot of the German media giant encourages its editors and sales teams to collaborate
  • Bauer editors take into account what content will make the most money from ads when making decisions on what to cover.

Editors are supposed to think about what their readers are interested in. They’re not traditionally supposed to think about whether their content is going to make the company money.

But things are different at Bauer Xcel Media US.

The company is an offshoot of the German media giant Bauer Media Group. It manages the US web operations for the traditional magazines such as InTouch Weekly, Life&Style and Woman’s World, as well as several digital-only brands.

Unlike many publishers, Bauer Xcel encourages its editorial and sales teams to share intel.

And while the sales side never tells anybody what stories to write about, Bauer editors are frequently in touch with their revenue-focused counterparts on what topics of coverage might be ripe for more ad sales revenue, and how different story layouts and formats might help the company make more money from ads at a given moment, for example.

That sort of thinking would be sacrilege ous at many old school media organizations, where the edit and sales teams may rarely interact, if not enjoy a degree of sibling rivalry.

Historically, media organizations put walls up between these two groups (figuratively and sometimes literally) to preserve editorial independence. The idea roughly is that journalists should cover the news without being influenced by whatever companies are paying to advertise with their media outlet.

“We don’t have the same church and state issues,” said Mike Shaughnessy, vice president of revenue.

This comes at a time when many traditional media companies are struggling to translate their once profit-rich offline businesses to digital media, where outside of giants like Google and Facebook many companies struggle to survive on typically lower-priced web ads. The philosophy at Bauer could provide some clues about the future of the digital publishing business, a future where “how an article monetizes” becomes part of a journalists’ purview.

“We do have a close relationship,” said Kate Spies, Bauer Xcel Media’s vice president for editorial and audience development, speaking of her team’s connection with ad sales executives. “We try to think about our content from end-to-end. We have to think about whether an article is on brand, whether people are going to interact and whether there is demand [from advertisers].”

Bauer’s digital ad space is almost entirely sold via ad exchanges and other programmatic outlets. The company’s magazines do sell ads directly, but the Bauer Xcel team is primarily managed separately from the print operations.

That setup means that the Bauer team thinks differently than print people, according to Spies and Shaughnessy. Both say that data and analytics are core to their decision-making.

That means that Bauer’s edit teams throw out sales terms like “RPM value,” or revenue per thousand users. The company even scores every piece of content on whether it has a high potential to be “click bait” – that is, a headline that might get people to click but not actually stick around, and will probably get penalized by Google or Facebook’s algorithm.

“Scale for scale’s sake is not where we want to be,” said Spies. “A naked celebrity may be the best piece of content on the internet, but you can be sure that media buyers won’t be putting Disney Cruiseline ads next to that content.”

And perhaps more radically, each piece of content gets a “monetization score” which editors and sales teams use to judge whether an article or video or photo is likely to pay out. Editors are also well versed in how platforms like Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP are resonating with readers, and paying advertisers.

magazine stand

In practice, that can mean that Shaughnessy might let Spies and her team know that there is a lot of demand at a given moment for a certain type of mobile ad. In that case, Spies’ editors could elect to use a different template to post a story, which wouldn’t change that content but would helps Bauer sell more of these ads.

Such a move can help a content package bring in 25% more revenue than a standard presentation, according to Shaughnessy.

“We don’t have the same church and state issues,” said Shaughnessy.

Similarly, if one of the Bauer sites is generating high ad rates from digital advertisers at a given time, the sales team can urge the edit team to try and send more traffic that site’s way.

Shaughnessy and Spies last year realized there was growing reader and advertiser interest in heath content. Since Bauer’s sites only have one to three staffers pumping out up to 15 stories a day, they need assurances that new types of content are worth pursuing. Based on their data sharing, they ended up rolling out a permanent health content channel on sites for First For Women and Woman’s World, which has taken off.

The company says it’s US operations are profitable.

“The entire company works towards the same goals. They don’t vary by department,”said Spies. “This means that everyone is pushing ahead to achieve the same numbers. Audience, revenue and profit.”