3 Questions With The Atlantic’s Kimberly Lau

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Many online readers of The Atlantic may be surprised to know that the publication’s legacy dates back to 1857, as an esteemed print periodical publishing the likes of Mark Twain and Edith Wharton.

While many loyal readers continue to subscribe to The Atlantic’s monthly print edition, the publication has built a robust and forward-thinking digital operation, attracting over 27 million unique monthly visitors, building out new digital-first brands such as CityLab, and designing (and re-designing) its site in a way that eschews the conventions followed by other digital publishers.

The Atlantic was also one of the first publishers to launch with Facebook’s Instant Articles initiative last year, and the team has since redoubled their efforts to publish as much content as possible in the new format. Kimberly Lau, Vice President and General Manager of The Atlantic Digital, is at the helm of these online efforts, and she recently joined our founder and CEO, Adam Singolda, in the Taboola Think Tank to discuss how her team assesses the opportunities and challenges across today’s digital landscape.

As more and more platform-specific opportunities arise (e.g. Instant Articles, Apple News, AMP), how do you prioritize where to allocate resources?

KL: These opportunities are part of our larger digital strategy to put our audience first and distribute wherever they are consuming content. Instant Articles was obviously important to us given the scale of Facebook, and we’re especially open to any kind of initiative that aims to provide a great user experience for readers.

We see our investment in projects like Instant Articles, the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project, or Apple News as a bet that the improvement in the UX will pay-off in the longer-term through higher engagement and brand loyalty.

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We were excited to announce last week Taboola’s AMP integration with The Atlantic. How do you measure success across each of these different platform initiatives?

KL: Success isn’t any one thing for us. Audience development obviously plays a big role. Given that each initiative takes up development work and resources, there has to be a valuable reach associated with that project.

But these platform initiatives also have to play nice with the other things that make our business successful, such as access to audience data, the ability to enroll new email subscribers, or flexibility around how we choose to monetize a user. Sometimes, we’re willing to sacrifice one of those things if it means we can reach more people more efficiently.

Is there a risk for premium brands like The Atlantic to have readers consuming content within the context of a platform (vs. TheAtlantic.com)?

KL: It’s important to remember that our digital strategy is not one game, but has many layers, and a particular initiative may offer some benefits and lack others. Like any online publication, we’re very focused on scale, and Facebook has enabled us to find new readers who never knew about The Atlantic.

Being on these platforms is a great way to distribute broadly, and viral stories especially can help us reach new users. Our next goal is to then convert those readers into “super fans,” through a newsletter sign-up or a print subscription.

For these types of distribution strategies, the pressure is on publishers to have consistent branding, and most platforms have allowed us to use our logos, custom fonts, and other branded cues. It’s up to us to have a brand that can translate into all of those different scenarios.

It’s obviously a rapidly changing space, and it’s exciting for us to know that while The Atlantic is bigger than it’s ever been, there are still a lot of people who don’t know who we are. There’s still a lot of frontier for finding new audiences.

For more information about Taboola’s collaboration with Google and the AMP project, you can read our full announcement here.