Whereas many publications have struggled to pivot and find their footing in the digital age, The American Spectator has enjoyed a resurgence, attracting supportive paid subscribers from among its large and growing audience of readers.
“Our readers need good information to make good decisions,” said Melissa Mackenzie, publisher of The American Spectator. “The American Spectator delivers solid reporting and commentary that educates and entertains our center-right audience.”
Surviving in a ‘Sea of Information’
Holding its own amid a “sea of information,” Mackenzie said, has been challenging for The American Spectator, launched in 1924 as a print magazine before introducing a web version. “Breaking through the cacophony is a constant challenge.”
Another major challenge the revered publication has faced stems from big technological organizations’ “deplatforming, throttling and censoring our content,” she said.
With Josh Eberly and Conklin Media Navigating, The American Spectator Improves Step by Step
The American Spectator partnered first with Josh Eberly, Conklin Media’s chief operating officer, shortly after Mackenzie arrived at the publication, in April 2016. For the next few years, the publication, steered by Eberly, worked to improve its foundation by tackling a list of major to-dos.
“The first years were just working on getting the foundation solid—new website on WordPress, new servers, advertising that doesn’t interfere and helps the site, emails, finding more ways to touch our readers, rebuilding our email list that had been abused,” Mackenzie said. “The list of craziness was endless.”
Envisioning a New Future for The American Spectator
Eberly, who later brought the client onto the agency’s client roster, helped grow The American Spectator’s business through a combination of business growth efforts such as a robust monetization strategy and website development projects.
The first step was to envision a new kind of future for The American Spectator, which was once a thriving print publication but had faced difficulties in the internet age as a digital magazine alongside its print counterpart like many other news-gathering organizations. Eberly helped The American Spectator team shift perception to empower themselves as authorities and leaders in their space.
“When you’re a small publisher or a small player on the internet, it’s easy to sometimes be like, ‘Oh, well, these big sites can do all this stuff that we can’t do,’” Eberly said. “It’s a mindset block whereas, if you dig into it and say, ‘All right, well, we can’t do it right away, but we can work at it over time, and we’re going to get to a point where we’re very happy.’ So that’s where we helped them, and we’re at a point now where they’re leading more than they are following in their space.”
Optimizing Existing Advertising Doubles Revenue, With Website Overhaul Elevating Functionality and Appearance
Like a lot of news media publishers, The American Spectator had been hit hard by declining website advertising revenue rates. Conklin Media optimized the publication’s existing advertising opportunities by bringing in new vendors. This effort alone doubled on-page advertising revenue.
Next, the Conklin Media team worked to make The American Spectator’s website much more friendly to visitors. “We reimagined the website, making it much cleaner, much better,” Eberly said.
Launch of Subscription Service Increases Cash Flow
The next step was to enact a paywall to monetize The American Spectator’s popular and insightful content, giving the magazine a rock-solid form of revenue that won’t fluctuate as much as digital advertising rates based on market trends. Visitors are able to read a few articles a month, with the paywall capturing subscriptions from a small percentage of the publication’s ardent and loyal readers.
“It has given us more consistent cash flow,” Mackenzie said. ”It has increased the value of our property.”
Before newspapers and magazines set up paywalls, hundreds of these news media organizations went out of business across the United States, especially in the months and years after the 2007–2009 Great Recession.
“We think that if 1 percent of our dedicated users subscribe, we’re going to be in a good position,” Eberly said. “That’s been our philosophy from the start with this project. I’ve built out the subscription backend, integrating everything with the website and setting the pricing. We handle all the marketing for the subscription side, and we’ve just consistently grown the subscription end to where The American Spectator now makes about 70 percent of its revenue from subscriptions.”
Mackenzie, who describes The American Spectator’s subscription service as having “brought legitimacy back to our print and digital space,” says her sights are set on an even rosier future.
“We continue to grow,” she said. “Now, Josh is pushing our marketing efforts. … Josh has a visionary ability to see the next big thing and encourage us down the road to constant innovation.”
The American Spectator Significantly Boosts Revenue
Altogether, these intertwined projects have helped The American Spectator increase its revenue four times over in 2020 compared with the previous year’s revenue. “I really love the growth of the MRR (monthly recurring revenue), which I think is a much more sustainable business model for them over the long term,” Eberly said. “They can count on revenue from subscriptions that they can’t with ads, which can fluctuate.”
Seeing The American Spectator benefit from revenue growth has been rewarding to Eberly and the entire Conklin Media team, but the publication’s enjoyed even more growth that has been perhaps even more satisfying. “I’ve also been excited about seeing them grow, adding talented people to their staff, especially younger people,” Eberly said. “It’s encouraging to see young people come in and be able to contribute right away and grow the business.”
Conklin Media’s COO Is a ‘Friend and Ally’ Committed to Making Clients the Best They Can Be
Over the past four-plus years, Mackenzie has found more than a visionary and business growth help in Eberly and Conklin Media.