Recycle, reuse … re-publish? Publishers make what’s old new again

Who says originality matters? There’s a timeworn journalistic tradition of being first and different, but let’s face it: Building a digital business on new and original content is expensive, often prohibitively so. And publishers know, a lot of content performs well over time. So some have made an art out of repurposing old content and giving it new life. Here are case studies of how three publishers did it. It’s up to you to decide if it’s cheating or simply brilliant.

Business Insider
The finance and viral news site has doubled its desktop traffic over the past two years, to 12.4 million monthly unique visitors, according comScore. One reason for BI’s success is that it has identified a formula for producing stories that generate millions of views, over and over, with little change to the actual copy. BI published a version of 15 Facts About McDonald’s That Will Blow Your Mind six times in three years, varying the list and the number of facts. It even published the identical list twice in 2012, here, and here, with the same headline and a different intro.

It’s easy to see why BI trod this path so many times. The first time BI published the McDonald’s facts list, in 2010, the story got more than 2.5 million views. All told, it has been clicked on more than 8.2 million times. Like McDonald’s itself, though, one can have too much of a fast snack, though; the sixth version of the story generated only 413,000 views. Still, BI has employed the approach with other hot-button topics, like Wal-Mart, Russia and China and to lists like this one.

Some publishers are resurfacing their content using social channels. Take Cosmo. On April 22, it published 25 Life-Changing Ways to Use Q-tips, which got 44 shares. It promoted it on Pinterest in May, then again on Twitter on May 13 and June 10. And Facebook on May 3 and June 3, where it got 1,003 and 415 shares, respectively.

The viral publisher regularly republishes its mission-driven posts, depending on how well they performed or whether the company feels the issue isn’t getting the attention it deserves. (Social justice isn’t going to be done in a day, after all.) So a map of Africa that’s designed to show how misunderstood the continent is has already been surfaced five times. It published this anti-homophobic statement by Ellen Degeneres in January 2013, then again in March 2014 when she hosted the Oscars. The first post got 1,800 likes and 330 shares and the second, 47,000 likes and 3,000 shares (keep in mind Upworthy’s audience had grown in the interim).

A publisher takes some risk in recirculating content to an audience that expects something new, and Upworthy doesn’t always date its posts. Andrew Forrest, head of audience development, said that Upworthy is trying to distance itself from the idea that current equals important. That said, the publisher isn’t ignorant of the need to be aware of users’ expectations.

“If something’s truly evergreen, it doesn’t matter when it was originally published,” Forrest said. “The way I get a read on it is looking at user comments. There are certainly cases where you can overdo it. But for the most part, folks haven’t seen it before or they just really appreciate seeing it again.”

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