The plight of the publishing industry is no secret. The landscape is continually evolving, leaving publishers scrambling to keep up. With third parties exerting more control over content distribution and engagement, publishers are becoming more disconnected from their audiences and more reliant on external platforms. Now, more than ever, we’re seeing the largest, most successful publishers, confront these issues head-on by investing in ways to strengthen the relationships with their audience.

Top publishers like The New York Times are limiting their investments in third party platforms and doubling down on building relationships through engagement, newsletters, and subscriptions. As a new report from WAN-IFRA suggests, external investment can often be a risk for publishers that can fail to back out into meaningful ROI. However, audience development through engagement has shown to provide sustainable results in the forms of direct traffic and subscriptions.

The strategies helping large publishers today can also be useful in helping create the large publishers of tomorrow. We believe that a publisher’s most valuable asset is the relationship between them and their audience and that the successful publishers will be those who invest in resources and tools that create and nurture these relationships. Our goal is to put the power to create, retain, and grow these relationships back into the hands of the people doing the work.

The case for building relationships


To the modern publisher, success is much more than creating great content, and publishers are taking on much more than just journalism in order to stay competitive. The average publisher is already devising an SEO strategy, a newsletter strategy, and strong social presence, all in addition to creating resonating content. Despite efforts on several fronts to fight for clicks, publishers are being left with nothing more than a receding lift in traffic, just to end up back where they started.

We saw this and asked the questions: “What do the problems for building these relationships look like for publishers,” and “How could publishers build off of the engagements Disqus makes available?” If we step back and approach these problems through a product lens, there are clear areas where we could help by providing tools to help publishers nurture the journey of visitors beyond their first comment, vote, or recommend.

Putting power back in the hands of the publisher

Not every publisher is able to employ a small army, like The New York Times, who currently has a 100 person team focused on retention. Rather, most publishers need the help of technology to convert those views and engagements into lasting relationships. To help, we’re expanding our platform to provide help with audience development in the three key areas:

Member Building

Publishers wake up each day and work hard to grow their traffic just to have it flow back into the ocean of headlines and search results. In order to make publisher effort more impactful, we’d like to provide publishers with a better method for turning readers into subscribers by helping them establish a direct line of communication that they control. This is why we’re exploring features that offer the ability for publishers to collect newsletter sign-ups, and directly message members of their engaged audiences.

Audience Insights

Each member of a site is unique and we want to provide publishers with more information about the cast of characters who engage with their content. The ability to know these people as individuals will help publishers retain community members by providing them with a unique experience; making them feel at home in a sea of internet communities. Visibility of the size of the audience engaging on Disqus, a sense of how your community is growing, and knowledge of who makes up your community at the individual level are some of the areas we’re looking to provide insight.

Audience Management

Lastly, publishers should have ways to reward those members of their community who are loyal and make up the fan base that help the publication improve and be successful. These members may vary from avid readers to paying subscribers. We see this as an opportunity to provide publishers with the tools to promote loyalty and strengthen the relationship with their readers by offering them something they can’t get anywhere else, such as subscriber-only access to special features or exclusive discussions.

We intend for these updates to augment several of the strategies that successful publishers are already leveraging. The unifying theme across all these efforts is the desire to help publishers own the relationships with their audiences.

Our commitment to providing these audience development tools is a direct result of our ongoing relationship with our publisher community. If you’re a publisher and have thoughts on other features that you think would be helpful, let us know in the comments below.