The digital publishing business isn’t easy. And in the last year, publishers started experimenting with additional ways of generating revenue. Whether it was through more custom approaches, like BuzzFeed and Gawker, or creating a space for advertisers to share their thoughts, like Forbes, 2012 was a year of lessons for many publishers. The new year brings new challenges. Here are the top ones.
Figure out a data strategy
If 2012 was about publishers understanding what “big data” is, 2013 is taking that data and creating opportunities. Looking at analytics, a publisher can work with agencies and advertisers to better hone a brand’s message, as well as better target the right people. Additionally, data can help inform editorial decisions — whether it’s boosting the social signal on a particular article or helping a reporter track the progress of her work.
The Modern Sales Force
Looking at data from a different angle, a publisher will need to figure out if it is (can be or should be) a data-driven sales organization. Look at Federated Media. It got rid of its direct-sales team for standard buys this year and now is betting on programmatic buying. The principles of programmatic will move into direct sales. Publishers can’t ignore this any longer.
Differentiate ads “beyond the banner”
It’s a cliche at this point — and a rote talking point — that banners don’t work. That’s not true. Still, publishers need to think more about what’s beyond the banner. New media companies, like BuzzFeed and Gawker, are rooted in the philosophy that online advertising doesn’t have to be a little box, one that elicits hatred from users. Even old timers, like The Economist and The Atlantic, are creeping into the custom-content universe, allowing tighter brand integrations and partnerships and, ultimately, more revenue. Look no further than how publishers like Machinima, Buzzfeed, Pandora and others worked with Taco Bell to bring its brand directly into the content experience.
Figure out the mobile CPM cliff
If the transition from analog dollars to digital dimes left publishers in a tizzy, think about what the transition from digital dimes to mobile pennies will do, particularly as mobile usage increases. In 2013, publishers will need to stop kicking the mobile can down the road and figure out appropriate strategies — and not just advertising, but also how to present content. If banner ads don’t work on desktops, why would they work on mobile? Publishers, arguably, will have a tougher time with mobile because there are no standard units, no standard device, no standard speed. Banners are microscopic, screen sizes are small, and intent is varied. Publishers will need to be more intuitive around what units will work and how advertising can sit alongside content in the mobile river. Most important, publishers cannot look at mobile as additive, but instead a core part of its business, which means, unfortunately for many, spending time, money and resources they just don’t have.
Video has much upside for publishers. It’s a great way to deliver content, get community participation and make more money, as video can command higher CPMs. Publishers from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to the Huffington Post have approached video with vigor, betting that high-quality video content — both packaged and live-streamed — is the correct one. Upstarts like Upworthy and NowThis News are betting that mobile video that can be shared across social networks is the future.
Publishers have a lot to do in 2013.
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