For Paper Magazine, #BreakingTheInternet Leads To Audience And Revenue Growth

Paper MagEighteen months after rethinking its business, Paper Magazine’s traffic has increased 900%. Digital revenue is up 400% over the year before, and for the past six months, inventory has been sold out.

The publisher unleashed these changes by prioritizing a platform-agnostic approach over print. It began publishing more frequently, paying closer attention to what readers responded to and using platforms to distribute content.

Previously, the 31-year-old media brand’s approach was centered on its magazine. It poured its editorial resources into topics that would be relevant two months down the road, when the next issue was due, and not what was trending that hour. And it paid more attention to what its writers liked, not which articles its audience was responding to.

To learn how to write content for its online readers, “We turned the mirror around and put it on our audience,” said chief creative officer Drew Elliott. “What do they like to talk about?”

The answer was influencers. When it published its annual “Beautiful People” issue in early 2014, it saw the power of highlighting celebrities and portraying them in a way they wanted to be portrayed. That led Paper Magazine to do its infamous nude photo shoot with Kim Kardashian later that year, “Break The Internet.”

Paper Magazine now tries to bring its perspective to digital culture, “looking at extreme celebrity and fandom inside of Internet culture,” Elliott said.

Its 9X traffic growth brought Paper Magazine from an average of 200,000 uniques 18 months ago to 2 million uniques last month, according to its Google Analytics data. (ComScore counts far fewer, tallying up 155,000 uniques in November 2015.)

Paper’s traffic growth led it to evaluate new publishing platforms, and it settled on RebelMouse in November. “Instead of building a dream home, it’s like renting a 5-star hotel room,” Elliott said.

RebelMouse is a social-centric content platform developed by the former CTO of the Huffington Post. But it has done more for Paper than simply drive traffic from social channels.

Since onboarding the platform, clicks per visit jumped from 1.3 to between 2.5 and 5 clicks, because RebelMouse is much better at surfacing articles that readers want to see next. The mobile experience has improved, especially in image rendering, which is important, given Paper’s visual focus.

Although Paper likes bringing readers to its homepage, that’s no longer the main focus. “When we stopped thinking about things in the old way, and driving people directly to the site became less important, we became more popular,” Elliott said.

The publisher has grown its Instagram following from 30,000 to over 300,000 in less than two years. Elliott says the power of Instagram is not in advertising but in brand-building. Being in users’ Instagram feeds allows Paper Magazine to be top-of-mind for those users and gives them a behind-the-scenes peek into editorial.

For fashion- and nostalgia-focused content, it publishes on Tumblr, which drives a considerable amount of traffic to Paper Magazine. Next year, it will participate in Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. It will also expand its presence in video, as it and many other publishers observe viewing and advertising dollars for video moving online.

“Our site is the most ‘pure’ way to view things, but we want to be where our audience is, “ Elliott said. “That’s in social, that’s in video, that’s in the magazine. Our audience wants us to be in all of those places. I’m not married to [a specific] distribution or worried about subscribers; I’m worried about reaching people with content that they love.”

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