MIT Technology Review Transforms From Publication to 'Experience'

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When Bruce Rhodes "walked in" 2½ years ago to run the publication MIT Technology Review, the new VP of consumer revenues and marketing had a six-times-a-year, "old" magazine, a free website and the word revenue in his title. Things had to change.

"We had to find an audience with those who wanted to invest in us," he said. "It's tough to engage with six issues. There were good competitors in our space—free tech sites. And we were a nice-to-have, not a must-have."

During a session at BIMS last month on upselling and cross-selling, Rhodes expounded on the transformation that he put in place and the positive results: increased engagement in all metrics, revenue up 40%, a science fiction annual up 71%, and single product reports up 30% (negating fears of cannibalization). Here are 10 reasons.

1. A "chef's table" kind of membership. "At a restaurant you can get a la carte or pre fixe. We needed something else, like a chef's table, where they will cook what you want or their specialty," Rhodes said. That became MIT Technology Review Insider, launched about 1½ years ago. He liked the word—"people get it. ESPN Insider, Business Insider. It's special access." There are three tiers: Basic, Plus and Premium with different levels of benefits.

2. A feeling of belonging. The MIT Insider headline reads: "Discover how technology will change the world for better. Join Us." It used to be subscribe, now it's "Become an Insider." "As an Insider, you enjoy exclusive magazine and Web content, plus unique experiences at events and gatherings. In addition, you'll be a member of an impassioned community."

3. They did their homework. "We had done right," Rhodes said. "We had a foundation of research feedback of what people were looking for." There is an active MIT Alumni Forum that helped. The magazine's mission is to "focus on technologies that make a meaningful difference."

4. A multiplatform approach. There's still print, but now there's so much more. The website features a very nice digital edition, videos such as "Marvin Minsky Reflects on a Life in AI"—photo essays, a section called Graphiti that shows interesting charts, discussions—one on a nuclear reactor received 44 comments—and events.

5. Moved to the experiential. MIT Technology Review has become a year-round experience. They offer products, platforms, different kinds of events, special access to speakers and members, book clubs... "You can't place a dollar value on experiential things," Rhodes said.

6. A backstage pass. "Meet the people making an impact," the Insider website says. One of the big attractions of Insider status is that members get to go backstage at events to get a private meeting with the speakers, many of whom are exciting young entrepreneurs. They'll also get preferred seating and special networking sessions.

7. New mindset. "We were not a must have," said Rhodes. "The changing nature [of our subject] makes it necessary [for readers] to be up to date on technologies in their space. There was a lot of untapped potential." (There are 110,000 MIT alumni.) Now the website leads with Top Stories, and there's a You May Have Missed section, valued archives and business reports to download.

8. Better communication. Rhodes said the #1 lesson for this transformation has been that they could have done a much better pre-launch as to what [readers] are getting. When they asked people coming to a conference if they are an insider, many asked, "What is that?" "We needed a better executed communication plan."

9. Website ads. The MIT Technology homepage features ads from National Instruments, Goldman Sachs and IBM. There are also clearly marked sponsored stories, downloads and article series.

10. Plans for 2016 – more videos, new website. In 2016, Rhodes hopes to "blow up" the website, use more robust messaging, "show more videos taking people behind the stage," create more strong, paywall-specific content for members and go to a meter of maybe five articles a month. "Each element needs to be valued by your members," he said. 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…