Capitalizing on disruption
The reason why it is so difficult for existing firms to capitalize on disruptive innovations is that their processes and their business model that make them good at the existing business actually make them bad at competing for the disruption.”
Clayton Christensen The Innovator’s Dilemma
Driven by digital disruption, news consumption has become more social, more promiscuous, more topic-driven and less mastheaddriven, as readers discover and engage with content in multiple forms through a myriad of distribution channels.
Competition for eyeballs is fierce for both news and advertising. Which begs the question: how can US publishers grow global audiences and revenues in such a complex and competitive world?
Digital News Consumption Trends in the US
According to Reuters, readers in the UK and some other European countries still tend to discover content through trusted brands, but it is a different story in the United States where Search is the main gateway to news.
However, in July 2015, Facebook pulled ahead of Google in the US as the top referral source in Parse.ly’s news traffic pattern study.
Interest in digital news is growing in the US with the number of people engaging with digital newspaper content having grown by 10% in one year since August 2014 to 179 million.
So, the US market is gaining interest in quality content which is great, but how can American publishers capitalize on this trend to maximize engagement and revenues?
Looking a little deeper into US news reader behavior… Cross-platform content consumption and sharing is a way of life for US readers.
- 35% get news on at least 2 devices
- 35% share news story via email or social media each week
- 17% access news mainly through mobile
- 10% say tablets are their main way of accessing news online
However, the data also indicates that only people’s willingness to pay for digital news is trending in the wrong direction.
This presents a real dilemma to US publishers. They have an audience that wants to read their news, but the majority don’t want to pay for it today. What about the future? When looking at where publishers could potentially receive payment one might instinctively think that older, more traditional readers would value the content enough to pay for it since they’ve been paying for printed media for years. But in fact, it is the millennials (i.e. who are expected to spend $10 trillion globally in their lifetime) seem to be more open to paying for news moving forward.
Research shows that GenYs spend 18 hours a day consuming media with 37% of that time visiting news sites that they reached through mostly social referrals and search. These readers expect instant, seamless access to content. So the moment a publisher raises a requirement to register or worse, a paywall, in front of that content, is the moment the publisher loses profit potential.
This less conventional news consumption behavior presents yet another challenge for US publishers. How can they serve both traditional readers, who favor the printed replica format today but are unlikely to pay for news in the future, and the “likely willing to pay in the future” digital natives who prefer a more contemporary presentation that offers “frictionless discovery of content curated by the crowd”? It’s really quite simple; give readers what they want – quality content they can read, engage with and share with others
- Wherever they are
- In whatever format they choose (online, via apps or in print)
- In the presentation style they prefer (enhanced replica and non-replica)
- On whatever device they carry - Online or off - For the right price
Many established and new entries into the digital publishing world are attempting to satisfy these readers through various presentation formats, distribution solutions and pricing models.
Their goals may be the same, but their service offerings and abilities to satisfy the needs of both consumers and publishers couldn’t be more diverse.
Making Sense of the Confusing Digital Publishing Landscape
At last count there were over 80 companies in the digital newspaper and magazine distribution and publishing industry. It’s become a very crowded and confusing landscape because it’s so easy for startups to adopt digital publishing technology and start promoting themselves as
the new Netflix/Spotify/iTunes for news. But are they really giving publishers what they need, which is to
- Grow audience
- Grow revenues
- Grow audited circulation
- Protect their content
- Know their readers
- Engage with readers
- Attract advertisers
- Reduce costs
Offering publishers multiple distribution options to reach more readers is great, but publishers must be careful to weigh the pros and cons of each offering against what they truly need and consider the combined effect of all these factors on their current business and their future.
There is some big money being invested in little startups in digital publishing these days, but the future sustainability of many of these small businesses is still in question. It isn’t the first time publishers have invested in “alternative” publishing solutions one year, only to disband them the next. A publisher’s content is its most valuable asset. Risking it on unproven solutions can be dangerous. Established, proven and trusted partners are a much safer bet when the stakes are high. And in today’s highly competitive publishing landscape, the stakes have never been higher.
Content Presentation & Engagement
Presentation of content may not be a deal breaker when it comes to online classifieds, but when it comes to attracting and retaining newspaper and magazine reading audiences, it is critical. Publishers need to pay close attention to how service providers are presenting their content to ensure that it...
- Serves the needs of both traditional replica readers and today’s new generation of news consumers
- Offers frictionless discovery of content curated by the crowd
- Supports digital features designed to engage readers’ interest longer (e.g. search, sharing, translation, text to speech, personalization, commenting, bookmarking, etc.)
- Allows for the integration of multimedia and interactivity into editorial and advertising
It’s fairly easy to manually process a monthly magazine which is another reason so many new players have entered the market. They can pay pennies for offshore contractors to process these publications. But for fullcontent newspapers and supplements, the barriers to entry are just too high.
So before jumping into a relationship with a new channel, publishers need to evaluate the scalability, reliability and quality of the content processing systems in place. Can the solution handle the complexities of processing their daily issues 7/24/365?
Every digital newsstand promises publishers a global distribution solution simply because the service is online. But the internet is a highly competitive universe where content is like a needle in a haystack – difficult to discover (especially if it’s a flat PDF-like replica) unless the searcher is specifically “brand hunting”. Publishers already own brand loyalists in their local markets. What they need is a distributor that brings their content to a massive paying audience they can’t easily reach on their own. The questions publishers need to ask are...
How many people will my content actually reach on a daily basis?
What specific consumercentric channels does the distributor own that have captive audiences willing to pay for my content (or have others pay on their behalf)?
There is a lot of buzz in the industry these days about the importance of big data and how newspaper and magazine publishers should use it to maximize audience and revenue growth.
When choosing a distribution and publishing partner, make sure their data and audience
analytics and reporting give you everything you need to truly “know” your audience, so you can give them what they want to maximize their engagement with your content.
In the 1990s there were basically three ways to make money with news – subscriptions, single copy purchases and advertising. Today, new revenue models are popping all over the publishing landscape. Here are a few that are making headlines these days that require further scrutiny.
Pay per Issue
The moment the iPad hit the market in 2010 and fueled the mobile app revolution, digital newsstands started popping up everywhere with every publisher in the world scrambling to get their titles up front and center on readers’ tablets and smartphones.
They provide a one-stop-shop for readers willing to pay for news and offer some opportunities for publishers to count issues as audited circulation. But newsstands are losing favor with many publishers because they don’t offer the level of discoverability, subscriber growth and reader convenience publishers and consumers need, which is why Apple Newsstand was dismantled in August of 2015.
Pay by Time Spent
There is a relatively new model being hyped that pays publishers based on reading habits of subscribers. The more time spent with a publisher’s content, the more money that publisher gets out of the “pot” collected from readers.
The revenue pool so far is small with relatively few users, requiring the provider to pay publishers minimums to entice their participation. It will be interesting to see how long the “pay by time” model keeps vendors afloat before their time runs out.
Recently, some new players and even some established publishers have embarked on a mission to cure what ails the industry through an “iTunes for news” paid content model.
This model breaks the typical monetization paradigms by unbundling publications and selling articles by the slice to subscribers. Price per piece, determined by the publisher, ranges between 20 cents to just over $1.
On the surface the model sounds “interesting”, but isn’t it leading publishers down the same path to pennies the music industry slid down nearly a decade ago? It didn’t work for record labels, it didn’t work for video and it especially won’t work for news where the shelf life of an article has much less value to consumers than the evergreen media (i.e. songs and movies) they tend to consume multiple times.
People are becoming less and less interested in owning a song off iTunes or a DVD; they are more interested in paying for a license to listen to any song or watch any movie on any device. The same is true for media, which bring us to…
Netflix for News
Today, the most user-friendly consumption model for music, video and news is the all-access/one-subscription model.
A number of new digital publishing houses now offer some form of “Netflix for news” to their magazine readers for a monthly fee. Newspapers aren’t included as they require complex processing these companies do not possess.
Many offer just flat PDF-like replicas created using off-the-shelf digital publishing solutions and do not support frictionless discovery of content; they do little more than present images of a publisher’s content which can’t be searched, shared or enhanced with digital features. The value to users, publishers and advertisers is limited at best.
The success of a publisher’s advertising revenues lies in its ability to recognize its content as audited circulation. Audit bureaus worldwide provide very strict guidelines to ensure publishers’ content is being “counted” properly.
The Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) pays close attention to how publishers are accounting for digital distribution. So when choosing a partner to distribute paid content to readers, US publishers need to make sure that the value of their content is recognized and properly counted, both from the commercial/publisher side and from that of the consumer.
Services that pay publishers “per issue read” count and are a publisher’s best choice when looking to maximize audited circulation. The more amorphous revenue sharing models (e.g. time spent or articles read) that do not “count” are good for brand exposure, but questionable in terms of their long term value to a publisher and its advertisers.
Publishing is no different. It’s been living in “interesting times” since craigslist hit the internet in the late 90s. And while some publishers attempt to weather the storm with flashy apps, diversification of product lines and dubious distribution choices, others are taking a more pragmatic approach, partnering with proven innovators that are working with every part of the publishing ecosystem and transforming it in a way that readers and publishers don’t feel that they are losing out in terms of quality content, value for money, audited circulation, audience growth and revenues.
Unlike the video and music industries that always sold products through third parties, the publishing industry has traditionally sold directly to consumers.
However, with today’s multiplatform and multi-channel demands of news consumers it’s not really feasible for most publishers to reach readers wherever they are on whatever devices they carry. The pressure to partner with third parties to develop new technology and manage distribution challenges has never been greater.
The music and video industries have suffered serious revenue setbacks after adopting business models that were not publisherfriendly. So what does that mean for mainstream media looking to capitalize on disruption with the right distribution and publishing partner?
Two words…”Partner wisely!”