Publishing for the Millennial Generation

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The Millennial generation – those born between 1980 and 1998 and now aged between 18 and 36 – are the second-largest generational group in human history (after the Boomers) and will soon be the largest consumer group ever. They’re moving through the first half of their working careers and building young families now.

For most publishers and media outlets – whether it’s general news or special interests – the Millennials are the biggest target market now and for at least the next 20 years. And for publishers now targeting Boomers: the Millennials are your company’s future.

Millennials are a huge market opportunity for publishers, but two misconceptions seem to get in the way.

The first is the belief that, as the first generation who grew up with the internet, millennials (and the younger Gen-Z crowd) believe that everything on the net should be free. To many, this concept is a better match with the Boomer counterculture who came of age in the 60s and 70s. We’ve paid for our news and entertainment content – in one way or another – in every communications medium before the web, so why should it change now? And, in fact, the observed behavior of millennials seems to demonstrate that they’re comfortable paying for content in various media channels, including print.

According to the 2015 Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 93% of millennials now pay for some sort of content service. Despite growing up amid abundant free online entertainment and news, today’s young adults still use significant amounts of paid content. This includes entertainment (streaming video, games or music) and news. The numbers look like this:

Mills Content Types

Interestingly, the most common news content format they pay for is print – magazines and newspapers – at about 30%, compared with 19% for news apps, 15% for digital editions of newspapers or magazines and 15% for email newsletters.

Mills News Formats

Predictably, the millennials who say they want to stay connected with the world and are interested in news are the most likely to be willing to pay for it. That mindset is the biggest driver of a person’s willingness to pay for news, not their age or socioeconomic status.

The second misconception that publishers and media outlets have concerning millennials is that they’re a single big demographic and behavioral segment. The same 2015 API/AP research project reveals that they can be broken down into four segments who think and behave quite differently …

The Unattached (34% of millennials) – Ages 18-24, who get their news and information primarily by ‘bumping into it’. Many are still in school, and 38% are unemployed. Primarily, they go online to stream music, TV or movies (79%) and do not actively follow general news or current events. Most of them do, however, look for information on entertainment or their hobbies or interests (65%) and about three-quarters of them to keep up with what their friends are doing through social networks (although FaceBook is not that popular with this younger crowd). This group is also the least patient when it comes to slow page load times online.

The Explorers (16% of millennials) – also in the 18-24 age group, but quite different than the Unattached. This group actively seeks out news and information. They’re highly-connected, especially with smartphones (97%), and they follow news for social information, current events and practical news-you-can-use. 61% of them use paid news content of one sort or another and 52% also get news from FaceBook, often several times a day. They also use YouTube (29%) and Instagram (25%) to get news regularly. Popular news topics for them include politics or government (57%), science and technology (54%), mews related to their job role (52%), local news (47%), business (44%) and schools and education (43%). They are very likely to discuss this news with friends on social media.

The Distracted (27% of millennials) – This group represents just over half of the older millennials (ages 25-36). They’ve started their families (68% are married and/or have kids), are working to develop their careers and have moved into the middle class. This busy group get less news and information online or from social media than any of the other millennials, and they’re the least news-oriented of their generation. The news and information they do follow is often about popular culture, their jobs, kids or other issues in their own lives. This is the most difficult group for most publishers to reach.

The Activists (23% of millennials) – This final group account for just under half of the older millennials (ages 25-36). Like the younger Explorers, they are actively seeking news and information. They’ve generally established their families (70%) and careers (81%) and are now more engaged with community affairs and news on a range of topics. They have acquired enough experience in the world to care about certain issues, and enough stability in life to spend energy on those issues. And just over over half of them pay for a digital or print news subscription.

They go online to keep up with what’s happening and are less likely to spend a lot of time with social connections or entertainment there. Almost half of this group have college degrees. This group is also the most racially-diverse – 46% are non-Hispanic white, 29% are Hispanic, 13% are black and the remaining 12% are from other ethnic groups. About 60% follow national politics, 50% are interested in science and technology, and 46% follow international news. With these increased interest levels and more disposable income than the other millennial groups, the Activists represent a small but very attractive audience for many publishers.

So – as a publisher or a media outlet, how does one best connect with the millennials?

First and foremost, recognize the different demographics, interests and behaviors across the four millennial groups. Look at your own content, marketing and communication channels and see which group(s) you appeal to the most. For many publishers the Explorers and the Activists are the best groups to focus on, even though they represent less than 40% of the generation. Remember that over half of the members of these groups now pay for some form of content subscription, and print is a significant part of that mix.

Second – once you’ve settled on which of the millennial groups you’ll target, be open to the possibilities of changing your content mix,distribution formats and marketing methods to best align with their interests, priorities and news consumption habits. Remember that these people are big users of smartphones and often learn about news through social media channels. How well are your titles leveraging mobile and social?

Third – remember that your biggest competition for this group’s attention (and their wallets) does not come from your industry segment’s publishing competitors. It comes from the enormous volume of free content online in every conceivable topic. Being active in social media channels and having strong SEO tagging will help your content rise to the top in those discovery channels – the ones millennials rely on most.

Fourth – when deciding on the balance between an ad revenue model and a paid subscription model, remember that millennials are often just fine with the idea of paying for good content in their interest areas – and that they often associate ad-riddled publications or websites with low-quality content.

Fifth – Be willing to consider new approaches to content and storytelling. While journalists are trained to take themselves out of the story and just present the facts in a balanced fashion, millennials have demonstrated that they value passion, enthusiasm and thoughtful opinion in the news and information they consume. As an example Sarah Koenig’s ongoing weekly podcast series Serial, which in it’s first season told a 15-year-old murder case story in real-time (including her opinions and feelings about it along the way) was a massive hit among millennial audiences. Rather than a dry recounting of the facts, she took her audience along on a journey of discovery and told us how it affected her. This new storytelling approach clearly appeals to millennial audiences. Can you bring these elements into the content and stories you offer?