Publishers’ distributed-content headaches

With this week’s launch of Apple News, there’s officially no shortage of new platforms for publishers to push their content and attract new readers. But while many see opportunity in the brave new world of distributed publishing, there are still risks and challenges.

The distributed approach makes plenty of sense on paper: Platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat command the kind of attention that few publishers can hope to replicate on their own. BuzzFeed, Quartz and Business Insider, for example, have all invested in this idea to varying degrees, tweaking their content based on the traits and strengths of each platform. In exchange, the platforms themselves get the types of content that will keep readers around. Content is back in demand.

Still, publishers have a few hangups about the new paradigm. Here are four:

Dorth Raphaely, gm, Bleacher Report: Publishers have limited resources to invest in what’s new.
“Say we have a piece of content and we put it on our site, on Vine, on Snapchat. Each time we put it somewhere new, we have to format and cut it a little differently and think about how that content fits on each platform. And all of that takes time. You have to be able to prioritize which platforms are going to be the most impactful. A part of my job is guarding my team from distractions and make sure they’re doing the things where there is a big opportunity. Sometimes we’re wrong.”

Steven Belser, svp production, NowThis: Data.
“Data can be an issue. Facebook gives us a significant level of data, but something like Instagram doesn’t really have any real viable data for publishers outside of the standard engagement metrics. The same thing goes for publishers who are distributing content through Snapchat via the ‘Stories’ feature, which doesn’t have the same data or analytics as publisher that is distributing directly through Discover. I can see how it can be daunting to not have that level of transparency.

“Still, if you’re serious about the distributed model, there’s still a lot of data to form valid conclusions about your audience. It might not be as robust as some pubs would like, but it’s there.”

Marty Moe, president, Vox Media: Making content work natively on each platform.
“The biggest challenge, and opportunity, in publishing to platforms is optimizing content types and formats for each platform.  Different platforms require different approaches, whether that is a small tweak to a format or an entirely different way of telling a story, and it requires focus, measurement, iteration and learning over time. Audiences respond very differently to certain types of content on each platform, so there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution that will resonate with everyone, everywhere. For example, we have a team focused specifically on programming for Snapchat, understanding that specific audience, and creating content that performs well on that platform. We will do this for all the major platforms.”

Chris Altchek, CEO, Mic: Relying on third-party analytics for insights.
“The hardest part of publishing to platforms has been relying on third-party APIs for data and analytics. In response to this challenge, we’ve been transforming Cypress, our custom CMS, to give ourselves more control over all three CMS pillars across platforms, which has strengthened our ability to pull and synthesize useful data from third-party APIs.”