News needs to make more money on the popcorn

A friend recently told me that everyone should have at least one good analogy every few months.

He’s already heard my Journalism needs a catering business spiel, in which I suggest meaningful, public affairs reporting needs to be an audience or reputation grower for something more profitable. That is, if journalism is the low yield equivalent to a coffee shop, to really succeed, it needs a back-end catering service that really supports sustainability.

So I returned to another I tried passing: movie theaters don’t necessarily need more people in the seats, they need more people in the seats buying snacks. Because, the thinking goes (though hell if I actually know this to be true) that snacks and soda are much more profitable than your movie ticket. News needs to make more on the popcorn.

Meaning, simply chasing more eyeballs for more advertising hasn’t felt like a real strategy to me for at least a couple years now. Instead, we should be curating audiences of greater value, who are more engaged and, one way or another, help fund our work.

Technically Philly does about 22,000 unique monthly visitors, which is a fine number but nothing any big player would take notice of. But in that raw number, we are cultivating a community that comes to events [that attract sponsors], hires people within the community [and pays to use our jobs board] and, we think, will be interested in some form of membership that will offer free access to these and other opportunities [that help support the service we provide our engaged community]. In turn, we even fine haven’t an engaged and connected community has brought in some passive advertising [and resulted in actually successful campaigns] and other related funds.

Getting more people in our theater is great — and as we build community that is happening — but a bigger audience isn’t as interesting to us as a more loyal, more engaged audience, preferably one with popcorn.