As ad revenues continue to dwindle, and publications continue to get different results with different subscription strategies, one thing that virtually all media outlets seem to agree on in difficult times is that conferences and festivals can fuel audience engagement – and revenue. Once relegated to networking and discovering industry trends, newspaper conferences are proving to be magnets for new readers and new dollars. As old as journalism itself, conferences are getting a facelift that industry pros say is revolutionizing the concept and adding desperately needed fresh blood to the industry.
Everybody’s Doing It
As detailed in an article by the New York Times, publishers avoided conferences in times of plenty to avoid ethical challenges and conflicts of interest. However, a 55 percent drop in ad revenue since 2006 forced publishers and owners to consider new options. As conferences proved to be productive in both revenue and audience engagement, old hesitations quickly vanished. Atlantic Media holds more than 200 events a year, Cosmopolitan will hold two conferences in 2014, Huffington Post will host three, and the New York Times went from one event to 16 in just two years.
It’s tough to say exactly how much publications are pulling in through conferences because they don’t itemize them in their profit reports, but experts believe a successful event can rake in upwards of $7 million. This money comes from ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. Small, local papers often benefit the most. In 2012, the Texas Tribune, a non-profit publication, brought in $800,000 from events – a number that nearly rivaled what they received in corporate gifts. Live events account for one-fifth of The Atlantic’s entire revenue.
Profit Beyond Dollars
In today’s market, audience engagement is as important as money. Live events are free brand advertising, and they’re built for video. Any video taken at a festival or conference can be sold or used repeatedly across several different platforms. Because media outlets have big-name contacts who they may have covered in the past, it’s a chance for a publication to draw younger readers. The New Yorker told the New York Times that the average age of their event participants is 44. Their average reader’s age: 51.
”Live journalism” is a modern update on the old concept of the newspaper conference. Interviewing someone, especially a public figure, on stage is a social media dream. It’s perfect for live tweeting and recapping on Facebook – integrated with video, of course. Live journalism satisfies today’s expectation of instant news in bite-sized chunks.
Both digital-only and mixed media outlets are not only putting aside old concerns regarding conferences, but coming to rely on them as a source of revenue and top-level tool for audience engagement. Although fine ethical lines must still be walked, the trend has been set – conferences are in. With each passing event comes new concepts designed to draw paying audiences that will be filled with new readers.
Photo credits: Flickr user Association of Alternative Newsweeklies