Four reasons publishers should be optimistic about 2017


Read on themediabriefing.com

This time last year we published an article titled ‘Running scared: Why are publishers so afraid?’. We’ll be the first to admit that there were much scarier things coming last year that we didn’t see coming, but the problems we did highlight only grew in prominence as the the year progressed.

Many publishers responded to those challenges by closing and consolidating titles, but just as many launched new products and services in an attempt to benefit from the new frontier of digital publishing. So this year, instead of explaining why publishers should be scared, we thought we’d highlight some reasons publishers should be optimistic about the next twelve months – if they’re smart and nimble enough to adapt.

Sign up now for our daily newsletter

Serious about subscriptions

2017 could well be the year that definitively proves people will pay for publishers’ online content directly. Digital news is seen as one of the content types that people stubbornly refuse to pay for. But towards the tail end of 2017 there were green shoots in terms of people signing up for subscriptions to news channels, as we discussed in this episode of TheMediaBriefing’s podcast.

It remains to be seen whether that is simply a knee-jerk trend based on recent horrifying world developments, or whether people are genuinely becoming habituated to paying for news. However, we’re inclined to suggest the latter…

In a few weeks we’ll be publishing our latest report into successful paid content strategies round Europe. While there will be many specific insights contained within the report, one thing that has come up in almost every single interview we conducted during the research phase is that almost everyone is betting on subscriptions being a huge part of the media mix by the end of the year.

But it speaks to a larger trend in digital publishing as well…

People are committed to finding new funding methods

Digital advertising has always been a sore spot for publishers. Even with advancements and smart developments in digital ad tech, digital advertising has never really taken off for publishers as much as they’d have liked. Add to that ongoing issues around transparency and viewability and any publisher trying to survive entirely from digital ad-spend is in for a rude awakening.

Worse still, the extent to which we can call digital advertising a duopoly became clear towards the back end of last year.

Google and Facebook so completely dominate that ad space because of the sheer amount of user data they control that other media companies are being squeezed in the middle. So as even the biggest digital publishers begin to feel the bite, there’s a growing acknowledgement that digital advertising alone cannot sustain publishers and that attempts to game the system to make it viable are at least partly responsible for some of publishers’ problems.

Medium’s Ev Williams was about as stark about it as possible:

“Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.”

In the same post, he acknowledges that Medium is still trying to find alternative revenue sources for digital publishers. The truth is that over the past few years there’s been an explosion in the number of ways for creators to monetise their content. Patreon, Blendle, De Correspondent and more are all examples of new means of funding content and we expect 2017 will see even more alternatives to a primarily digital-ad based model emerge.

Live video’s big benefits

If there’s one prediction for the next few years on which we’d stake our fortune, it would be the continued ascension of video’s importance for publishers. We’ve spoken about how Facebook’s relentless push for its Live video basically ensures publishers will hop to and start experimenting with it. That’s a good thing; live video creates scarcity in a way that a lot of other digital media does not.

Newswhip have recently published an analysis of how the New York Times and BBC News are experimenting with Facebook Live, and implicit in their findings is something we’d encourage any publisher looking to thrive in 2017 to emulate:

“The comment section can add important context or clarity for some of the videos, and can direct interested viewers to relevant related posts on your site. Our analysis showed that the comment sections were being utilised much more frequently by social media editors with live video, in a variety of ways.”

The lesson is that Live events drive engagement, which our emeritus editor Damian Radcliffe describes as the media buzzword of 2017:

“Engagement matters, not just because it can help drive creativity and revenues, but because news media in particular urgently needs to reconnect with many audiences and demonstrate the value it brings to society. Trust in media and journalists – in the US, UK and many other countries – is at a record low. If we can more effectively demonstrate this value, then perhaps, just perhaps, audiences will be more willing to pay for it.”

And hey, if not, then at least one of your journalists can have fun experimenting with mukbang…

AI, voice and chatbots

This year will see an explosion in the sheer number of AI-enabled technologies to which consumers have access. We’ve written about why AI and chatbots are about to come of age before, and all indications are that chatbots are quickly becoming an accepted part of everyday life.

But it’s astonishing how quickly I’ve become habituated to asking Alexa for my flash briefing in the morning, and while I’m probably an early adopter, the commercial and convenience factor of devices like Amazon Echo will be enough to get them into a sizeable amount of homes. That’s another way that publishers can reach audiences (though we do have reservations about the effect it could have on brands).

What other opportunities for publishers did we miss? Let us know in the comments below! Alternatively, we’re running our flagship Digital Media Strategiesconference in London next month, hearing from incredible speakers who’ll also help us identify niches and opportunities. For more information or to book your place, click here.