Monetizing Your Archives Just Takes Some Strategy

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"Beyond including it in our subscription, one of our most successful approaches for generating revenue from HBR's archive has been curating it in book form, creating a-la-carte products available to consumers who aren't necessarily subscribers (but often are). Our 'branded lines' team now publishes 10+ books per year in a number of different series. Each series offers up our archive content for adifferent purpose orreader."
Ania Wieckowski, senior editor of Branded Lines, Harvard Business Review, in a Q&A in Folio:

I visited one of Washington, D.C.'s leading bookstores last night—Politics& Prose—and indeed, books were selling. They host an author event every night to promote walk-in business, and last night's guest was Sally Quinn of The Washington Post. She has a new book out about her late husband Ben Bradlee, so it drew quite a crowd.

But books are just one way to make old content new again. Here are a few more:

1. Highlight special speakers you've had in the past. Politics & Prose prominently displays signed books from past authors they've hosted, and I'm sure they still get sold as nice presents. It's incredibly easy to miss good stuff the first time around, so it pays to remind people. Afresh display, headline anda little something extra like a signaturecan make anything old new and special again.

2. Go back over your analytics to see what content has performed best. "Luckily publishers have the benefit of old archives," Amanda MacArthur, co-founder and content director of Lantern Content Marketing Adventure Company, told me recently. "And you don't need to be creating new content all the time. You can simply recycle older content and optimize it for the web and SEO. To tell if content is effective, we live in Google Analytics and a variety of other tools to see where new traffic is coming from, and whether [that traffic is] staying."

3. Don't be too over-protective of old content. "A website with 100,000 free articles is going to attract more visitors and convert them into subscribers better than a website with 100 that keeps all the good stuff behind the wall," MacArthur said. "The real tragedy is when publishers keep their best content locked away and get frugal creating the free content. You want the content in front of your paywall to be as good as what's behind it."

4. Think strategically about your best content. Wieckowski said that some of HBR's "most successful efforts have been around 'unlocking' an archive article from behind our paywall for a week, and touting that it's free for non-subscribers for a limited time. We've seen a lot of clicks to those articles, good engagement (time on page), and also conversions to subscription from that program."

5. Match old articles with new events. Wieckowski pointed to a recent snow day when they published an evergreen article about working from home, and the clicks and shares were high. On the eve of our events, I've posted an article about the ways to get the most out of an event you attend.It always seems to get some new traction.

6. Make access to your archives a valued commodity. In 2012 Harvard Business Publishing made the decision to open archive access to subscribers on and haven't looked back. "We heard people recognized [back] issues by covers, so we started posting images of covers [to help them find key content]," said Emily Ryan, senior product manager. "We saw a 20% increase in subscription revenue right away."

7. Slice and dice into new categories. HBR has also been in the process of taking archived articles and breaking them down into ideas so they're easier to apply to real situations. "We kept hearing that people wanted that," Ryan said.

You can listen here to Ryan's session from BIMS last year—Analyze and Unearth Your Content Archives to Boost Engagement and Retention—and one from Kalani Rosell, VP and publisher of NewsRx, at June's SIPA Annual titled Monetizing Archived Content and Leveraging Your Data.

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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…