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The Atlantic hired a Facebook news exec to figure out a pay model



Cohn, Howard Mittman, and Robert Capps attend Ellie Awards 2017
at Cipriani, Wall Street on February 7, 2017 in New York

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for
The Ellies

  • The Atlantic has hired Alex Hardiman, head of news
    products at Facebook, as chief business and product
  • According to president Bob Cohn, Hardiman will help
    build out tiers to The Atlantic’s subscription business through
    audience research.
  • A team of 65 people across The Atlantic’s product,
    engineering and growth teams will report to Hardiman.

The Atlantic is bringing in Alex Hardiman, one of Facebook’s key
news execs that served as a liaison between publishers and the
platform, to beef up its digital innovation plans — specifically
when it comes to subscriptions and audience research.

joined Facebook two years ago
and led various initiatives,
including Facebook’s push into subscription offerings and The
Facebook Journalism Project — which recently announced plans to
pump $4.5 million into programs geared at local news publishers.

Before Facebook, she spent nearly a decade working on digital
productions and innovation at the New York Times.

According to a Facebook rep, the company is looking for a new
head of news products both internally and externally. In the
interim, Hardiman’s team leads will report to Tom Alison, vp of
engineering at Facebook.

In a memo sent to staff on Wednesday, The Atlantic’s president
Bob Cohn announced the hire. Hardiman will work out of The
Atlantic’s New York and Washington offices and begin in late

The move is part of an aggressive
plan for The Atlantic 
to hire 100 employees in the next
year on the heels of Emerson Collective —an organization run by
the philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs — acquiring a majority
stake in the publication a year ago.

“She’ll play a leading role in further developing our reader
revenue strategy, and she’ll be working closely with Jeff
Goldberg and Hayley Romer to build products in support of both
edit and sales,” Cohn wrote. “It’s a broad job, but I think it
strips down to this: Alex will lead teams responsible for
creating a superior user experience that serves both our
audiences and our businesses, and for driving product innovation
across the company.”

Business Insider talked with Cohn about the hire and how the
160-year old magazine is building up its tech and data expertise
within its digital journalism.

Lauren Johnson: What stuck out with Alex to fill
this role?

Bob Cohn: We definitely wanted an infusion of
Silicon Valley-style innovation and tech expertise in the
company. At the same time, we’re a media company and not a tech
company, so it had to be someone who was grounded in media. Her
resume and experience seemed to be ideal before we even met her,
which put us over the top.

Alex Hardiman
Hardiman is currently head
of news products at Facebook.

Hardiman / LinkedIn

It’s experience and then meeting her. Her enthusiasm for The
Atlantic, her complete understanding of the landscape where media
and tech collide. Her sheer smarts and her personality and
optimism and overall fellowship.

Johnson: What will she be working on?

Cohn: The product and engineering teams will
report to her as well as the growth team. The growth team
includes audience development, data science and consumer
marketing. It’s about 65 people right now and growing.

One of the things she’s going to do when she comes in the door is
focus on who our audience is and what does our audience want.

Not audience development but audience research. If she’s going to
be helping us with products that should increase loyalty and help
us build towards a consumer business, it starts with knowing what
our audience is hungry for. Understanding the audiences and
knowing the personas and how to segment our audiences will be an
important part of a creating a product strategy. Then figuring
out on the consumer side how we build subscription services for
those audiences. [She’ll] also focus on ensuring that we’re
offering an excellent user experience.

Johnson: What learnings are you hoping that she
brings over from Facebook?

Cohn: At Facebook she was working with dozens
and dozens of publishers who were trying to navigate the social
media waters and figure out how to succeed and live in a social
media world.

So she saw everything and is going to have real good insight into
best practices and new ideas. I think her Facebook experience
gave her a very wide windshield on what’s happening out there.
And her New York Times experience means that she comes from a
place of irrefutable excellent journalism that was being
entrepreneurial and experimental at the same time.

The Atlantic wants to take its subscription business up a notch

Johnson: Within user experience specifically,
what is The Atlantic zeroing in on and learning about readers?

Cohn: However a user — a reader, a
video-watcher or a podcast listener — interacts with The
Atlantic, we want the experience to be excellent. Part of the
product job is to make sure that every way we touch the consumer,
[the goal is that] it’s seamless, it’s simple, it’s intuitive,
it’s beautiful.

Johnson: I know your subscription product
Masthead has been a big focus
over the past year.
What’s different with those readers and
what’s working?

Cohn: We obviously have a print magazine that
readers pay for but the digital experience at The Atlantic has
largely been ad-supported and free to consumers. Masthead is our
experiment with premium content on the web and we’re learning a
lot — part of what the product team will do under Alex is distill
best practices there and find a way to bring something — probably
at a lower price point — to a wider number of people.

Johnson: Meaning a lower price than Masthead
(which is $120 a year)?

Cohn: Yes, a lower price point than Masthead. I
imagine that we’ll be experimenting with different price points
over time and that there will be other options for readers who
aren’t looking for premium content but regular Atlantic content.

Johnson: So you’ve seen a need for a medium
between the premium subscription model and the ad-supported

Cohn: Yeah, I imagine there will be tiers when
we finally figure this out. That’s something that we’re going to
be focused on with audience research as well as just building out
the infrastructure of a paywall.

Advertising is still a healthy business for The Atlantic, but the
publisher is looking to diversify

Johnson: There’s been a bigger move for
publishers to invest in owned-and-operated properties like
websites. How are those visitors differ from people who come from
search and social platforms?

Cohn: Mostly we want our content read and to
make sure that it has impact. In that way, we’re agnostic to
whether the consumption happens on our owned-and-operated sites
or on third-party platforms. It’s been easier to monetize our own
platforms and of course we like to give readers an experience
that we can control in terms of the look and feel of it.

At the same time, we’re very happy to increase our reach by
having some of the consumption take place off of our platform.

Johnson: How much are you making from the
ad-supported model versus other types of revenue?

Cohn: Digital and print advertising is about
half of our revenue. And then we have significant revenue streams
in live events, print subscriptions, consulting. It’s been really
important to us to create a diversified revenue stream.

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