‘Not just an add-on’: The Evening Standard bolsters its commerce play

ESI Media’s London-focused newspaper, the Evening Standard, has expanded its entertainment content in order to drive e-commerce revenue through ticket sales.

The publisher launched an editorial sub-brand in December called Go London, which features reviews and articles on the capital’s attractions such as the top power breakfasts, the best vegan pancake spots and the best theater shows to see for Valentine’s Day. Go London’s seven-person editorial team decides the content of all articles.

Approximately 10 articles are published daily to the Go London part of the Evening Standard’s site, double the amount of content published to the previous Going Out section, which has been folded into the same area of the site. Video and audio are small but growing parts of the mix, according to the publisher. The publisher plans to keep hiring, expecting to add six staffers who will be dedicated to Go London content by the end of the year.

E-commerce revenue makes up a small percentage of ESI Media’s total revenue, thanks to existing affiliate partnerships, but the publisher wouldn’t share figures. According to the publisher’s most recent Companies House filing in July 2017, the Evening Standard reported profits of £2.2 million ($3 million).

“The expectation is e-commerce will be an important part of our revenue, not just an add-on,” said David Tomchak, digital director of editorial at the Evening Standard. “It’s an integral part of the strategy.” While the publisher was unwilling to share how many transactions have occurred so soon after launch, Tomchak said it was ahead of schedule, with theater tickets proving to be the most popular purchases.

The publisher takes between a 10 and 15 percent revenue share from show ticket sales. It’s also exploring deals with restaurant-booking and aggregator services like OpenTable, but it isn’t expecting such high revenue cuts.

ESI Media has a hybrid e-commerce approach involving affiliate partnerships plus integrating its own white-label technology platform, Evening Standard Tickets, which pulls in application programming interface feeds from ticketing platform Encore. Evening Standard Tickets is integrated into the publisher’s editorial content-management system, so writers can enter the shows they’re featuring in articles to automatically populate the commerce feed via an API. Previously, the additional steps for completing the transaction led to lost traffic, the publisher said.

“Complete automation can go wrong,” said Sandro Del Grosso, head of digital partnerships and e-commerce for ESI Media. “We can easily syndicate [this platform] for other Evening Standard brands; the idea is to be ambitious with it.”

The publisher’s offering has some room for improvement, however. “The seamless ticket integration and purchase is slick, but getting you to that point is challenging,” said Guy Levine, CEO of digital agency Return, which helps clients improve conversions. “The homepage doesn’t show what its unique proposition is. The first rule of e-commerce is to make it apparent what you’re there to do, but there’s no organization of data.”

Publishers with an understanding of their audience are increasingly using content to drive commerce, but making it a more meaningful part of their business takes investment in staff, data analysis and content creation. Go London already faces competition from publishers like Time Out. The Go London team will continue iterating the site, like introducing more personalization features for users based on their interests.

Traffic to the Go London section has increased 20 percent since December, according to the publisher, with search engine optimization traffic up by 63 percent since launch. Go London also runs programmatic display ads, and the publisher signed its first sponsorship deal this week, although it wouldn’t name the brand.


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