The Economist – A Case Study
Given The Economist’s exponential success, Media Connex analyses its distribution methods, interactive platforms, and proposes strategies for its continued expansion.
Since its establishment in 1843, The Economist has grown into one of the world’s most prominent news providers. In order to analyse its exponential success, MediaConnex delves into how The Economist manages its distribution and interactivity, and proposes potential solutions that may allow the organisation to expand its reach.
Due to media convergence, content is increasingly digitised, various media platforms and devices are combined, and information may be instantly exchanged on an international scale (Gasher, 2011, Media Convergence, para. 3). Technological convergence accelerates content distribution by simplifying the production of media content, and has led to an increase in mobile usage (Bell, 2015, para. 1). Furthermore, increasing broadband speeds (Heisler, 2016, para. 1) allows content to be widely accessible. In order to capitalise on these trends, The Economist publishes its written content on multiple platforms; it shares its content on its mobile-compatible website, as well as applications that are compatible with multiple operating systems (e.g., iOS and Android) and devices (e.g., Kindle and Nook) (The Economist, 2016).
In order to increase the circulation of its written content, The Economist’s online articles are replicated in its traditional publications (Oberholzer-Gee, Anand & Gomez, 2010, p. 8). The Economist compiles its online content into weekly magazines, and distributes tangible copies of its publications in over 200 countries (World Heritage Encyclopedia, n.d., Circulation, para. 3). In addition, The Economist increases content circulation by translating its written content into multimedia formats, which it features on its website and through alternative online channels. For instance, the Economist in audio program is featured on its website, and its videos are available on its website and on YouTube (The Economist, 2016).
Although the Economist’s content is widely circulated, in comparison to larger news portals, its distribution channels are limited. Firstly, whilst the Economist’s radio stations are only available online, the BBC’s radio stations are online and on-air (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2016, p. 5). Secondly, although the Economist produces video content that is premiered on their website and on YouTube, BBC’s televised content is premiered on their own channel, and is broadcasted by international cable providers. Thirdly, the Economist uploads videos on a regular basis. However, other news providers may deliver immediate content through their live channels. For instance, Sky News’s live YouTube channel provides consumers with real-time updates, and delivers their videos faster than the Economist can.
Furthermore, The Economist’s circulation may be limited in countries with strict censorship laws, as they may prohibit content that challenges their authoritarian regimes. For example, The Economist’s copies were seized in India and Sri Lanka (World Heritage Encyclopedia, n.d., Censorship, para. 2), and their sales were banned in Iran (The Associated Press, 2006, para. 1). Although these cases are frequent in totalitarian nations, the Economist’s circulation may also be hindered in democratic countries. For instance, the Missouri Department of Corrections banned the Economist’s internal circulation, as it assumed that the Economist’s contentious publications would compromise its security or discipline (The Economist, 2013, para. 7).
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Due to user-friendly online interfaces, enhanced connectivity and the advancement of mobile technology, Newman (2009) claims that online participation has exponentially increased (Newman, 2009, p.2). Correspondingly, most webpages allow users to exchange information with digital interfaces, and are able to track and collect data about their users’ online activity (Technopedia, n.d., para. 1). Website operators use this data to practice narrowcasting, during which audiences are segmented according to their shared characteristics, and are presented with relevant content (Baran, 2017, p. 34).
According to Rossi (2007), the Economist practices narrowcasting, as it tailors its content to different genders, different ethnic groups and to specified niches (Rossi, 2007, par. 6). It also practices regional segmentation, as it includes articles that focus on events that are relevant to each respective region, and re-structures its regional publications to feature these stories (Oberholzer-Gee, et al., 2010, p. 4). By segmenting its audience, The Economist creates content that their audience is interested in, or knowledgeable about. Hence, The Economist creates pertinent topics for online discussions.
The Economist heightens its interactivity by accommodating user-generated content. For instance, The Economist invites its readers to vote, debate and comment about issues in its ‘The Economist asks’ segment (R.A., 2010, para. 2), and features their commentary in ‘Letters to the Editor’. Due to the fact that audiences’ interests are sparked by real-time events (Anderson, 2014, par. 1), The Economist’s reports on relevant issues will encourage pertinent conversation, as its audiences may directly comment on its articles and blogs, and participate in online debates.
However, The Economist’s attempts at audience fragmentation has its limitations. Firstly, the Economist creates content that addresses a broad range of international issues, and tailors their content to the ‘curious reader’ (Oberholzer-Gee et al., 2010, p. 1). Due to The Economist’s varied content, and vague generalisation of their target audience, their target audience may be difficult to define. Secondly, although the Economist covers regional stories, their viewers may prefer to turn to their local newscasters for regional news, which cover a larger and deeper scope of regional topics. Both of these factors may limit their viewership, hence the amount of interaction on the Economist’s webpage.
In addition, although The Economist’s capitalises on user-generated content, its moderators may limit interactivity. In order to effectively monitor their website’s activity, the Economist requires its users to create accounts, and prohibits comments from anonymous users (The Economist, n.d., para. 2). The Economist assigns moderators to regulate its website’s activity, and to deregister users who post offensive comments. Although this is done to protect the majority of their users, this practice ultimately limits their platforms’ interactivity.
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Potential Solutions for Expansion
The Economist may drive readers to their sites through aggressive Social Media Marketing campaigns. Recent studies show that social media usage has increased exponentially (Perrin, 2015, para. 2), and social media platforms are estimated to drive more traffic to news platforms than search engines (Ingram, 2015, para. 2). In order to ensure that their Social Media Marketing campaigns are effective, The Economist should emulate the BBC’s editorial strategy, and should set up regional teams that would tailor its social content to regional audiences (BBC, 2015, para. 2).
In order to enhance this strategy, the Economist should forge partnerships with regional service providers to cover each topic in-depth. These strategic partnerships will allow The Economist to create insightful content, as it will benefit from the expertise of regional service providers. This cross-marketing campaign will also allow The Economist to access their regional partners’ consumer bases, and drive traffic to their various platforms.
According to Mitchell, Jurkowitz and Olmstead (2014), direct visitors remain on a website for much longer, comprehensively explore its constituents, and return to its portal more frequently than visitors who are directed to the website from a search engine, or through social media platforms. This indicates that Social Media Marketing campaigns would be more effective for organisations that rely on quantitative viewership. For instance, the BBC generates revenue from its licence fees, government grants, and commercial earnings (BBC, n.d., New partnership and funding model for S4C section, para. 4).
This indicates that the BBC adopts a traditional revenue model that capitalises on the volume of their readers, and would benefit from aggressive Social Media Marketing campaigns. In contrast, The Economist generates most of its revenue from its subscription fees (Oberholzer-Gee, et al., 2010, p.6), and its revenue-generation model relies on retained customers. Although The Economist should not ignore the importance of Social Media Marketing campaigns, it should implement strategies to retain its readers; The Economist’s writers and editors should develop content that their audience would want to read and share (Mitchell, Jurkowitz & Olmstead, 2014, para. 1), and it should acquire referrals that present it as a dominant information provider (Mitchell et al., 2014, para. 7).
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