The promise of the Internet was that anyone with a keyboard and a connection could become a publisher and make tons of money. Like many promises rooted in theory, when it comes to practicality, things are quite different.
The reality of the digital ad system is that scale still matters. Smaller publishers have the deck stacked against them. They’ll never get the traffic numbers brands and buyers want. And in the age of automated ad systems, finding large pools of specific audiences is easy — and cheap. For many small publishers, it all adds up to the need to take a different route.
Smaller publishers, like The Awl, Thought Catalog and The Fader, can’t compete on a CPM basis. While they may be large enough to have influence over a particular demographic, looking at them on a buyer’s spreadsheet, they’re still peanuts. Instead, by positioning their expertise about their audience in a marketplace that has gone whole hog into pageviews, these smaller publishers are making a go at creating working models.
“I have this theory that scale is becoming less important because of the uncapped scale that virtually anyone can access because of the exchanges and RTB,” said John Shankman, publisher of The Awl, which gets 425,000 uniques per month. “Data and production value will become what we compete on more and more.”
We’re seeing this with the “publisher as agency” model. Publishers like Vice, which gets about 2.5 million uniques per month, are helping brands develop content. Vice’s in-house agency, Virtue, not only serves as a creative agency but also does everything from planning to Web design for clients.
The Fader, a niche music publication with 124,000 uniques per month, actually has its roots as a marketing agency called The Cornerstone. The Fader was spun out as a side project in 1998 and now helps brands create custom content, both online and offline, like its partnership with Vitamin Water, which Fader helped create nine events and more than 70 pieces of video content.
Others are turning to deals. Take a look at Thrillist, a daily deals publisher offering its subscribers information and content via a newsletter. Instead of chasing pageviews to woo brands, the company instead monetizes its subscribers through brands that advertise both on the site and newsletters.
In a recent AdExchanger interview, Todd Anderman, president of sales, marketing and operations, discussed the company’s “native” advertising approach, to “make it part of the whole process where it becomes part of the recommendation of how they spend their time and money.”
The commoditized game isn’t going away anytime soon, as it’s tough to leave the 4 trillion impressions per year on the table. But the pendulum is swinging for publishers that can convince brands that money is better spent on creating custom content and targeted messaging for these passionate audiences.
“Before, scale was everything,” Shankman said. “Now, you can win business on production value.”
Image via Shutterstock
How newsroom unions intervene when members get laid off
Amid the recent wave of media layoffs, here are some of the ways newsroom unions are intervening.
Despite Q1’s slow start, publishers are bullish about events revenue for 2023
Publishers like BDG and Apartment Therapy are banking on events revenue to give them a leg up in 2023.
Media Briefing: The case for and against monthly and annual subscriptions in the battle for retention
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for improving retention in a subscriptions business. While annual subscribers might stick around longer for some, other publishers will have better luck with monthly plans.
SponsoredHow Rumpl and Replacements got creative with CTV ad production and media buys
Sponsored by MNTN This year, marketers are balancing multiple priorities, including the convergence of two trends: the growth of CTV advertising and economic uncertainty impacting ad budgets. To keep costs low while generating ROI, savvy brands are embracing innovative approaches to production and media buys. These tactics allow advertisers to continue reaching audiences on CTV […]
Digiday+ Research: The economy will hit the media and marketing industries this year, but differently
The economy will plague both the media and marketing industries in 2023, but the hit will be uneven between publishers and agencies.
Podcast ad buyers have yet to see a slowdown
Ad buyers have yet to see clients cut their podcast budgets – though the time of podcasts as the shiny new medium may be coming to an end.