That's what makes News UK's Project Footprint research in to the Times' subscriber base so interesting. Using comScore technology, it monitored the desktop, tablet and mobile behaviours of seventy subscribers. The fact that Times subscribers are an attractive bunch is probably a point that most advertisers would already accept -- but the clever thing with this research is it shows that an inquisitive readership that is "lean forward" is distinct from the average Internet user. For me, then, the killer stat is not so much that Times readers use Google more than three times as much as the average person to discover content online. It's an interesting point but the killer stats is they use Facebook half as much as the average person.
Put simply, News UK has shown that the very simple tactic of pumping money into paid social may work on many occasions, but it is less likely to work if you are seeking to reach a Times subscriber. There are a few figures in there about how much more likely Times subscribers are to join in an online conversation about a brand and how brands see a corresponding uplift in engagement. Again, they will be of interest to advertisers but, for me, the big factor is The Times pointing out that its subscribers are not as heavily into social as the average Web user.
It's an interesting point because it underlines the different strategy of a free digital newspaper compared to a subscriber-based model. The free alternative will naturally have higher figures for readers and social shares, likes and comments. It stands to reason that if something is free to read and share, people will share and read it freely. The figures look good, but then what about the opposite approach? What about putting your content behind a pay wall and taking a decline in social media interaction on the chin. Readership figures go down, and the number of shares and likes will likely reduce too, and so to the average digital marketer, alarm bells might start to ring.
However, if you consider that the only thing being dropped is a free ride, and that behind the paywall there is still a strong, highly-engaged readership, then you can easily build a different model based around an audience of fewer readers that you know an awful lot more about and who are choosing to come to your site and even pay for its content. This audience is not simply checking out, for free, what their pals have enjoyed and posted on their walls. The crucial point is to be able to show that they cannot be reached elsewhere for cheaper CPMs and, although, it still might be the case on occasions, this Times research does at least show it's not a given. Those brand advertisers who assume they can reach everyone on social may not be proven totally wrong but they are certainly being shown they are only partially correct some of the time.
So, this research is an important step in publishers fighting back against the race to the bottom that automated inventory buying and selling appears to be ushering in. By showing that News UK has a distinct audience which can't simply be reached elsewhere as effectively as on its own desktop and mobile services, it has made a very good argument for its spots to be bought across the multiple platforms with some care and forethought, rather than lumped into a general automated campaign.
Could this be a start of the fight back against the race to the bottom? If so, I applaud it.