As we enter a new year, it’s a great time to stop and take stock of the key trends which shaped the publishing sector over the past year.
The next 12 months are likely to see a lot of continuity in terms of technology and consumer behaviours; and many of the key strategic issues which What’s New in Publishing readers are interested in are unlikely to go away, or radically change.
With that in mind, below I’ve outlined six strategic priorities for publishers and brands in 2019. Addressing these will be fundamental for prosperity in the year ahead and beyond.
1. Willingness to pay for content
The past year witnessed a “pivot to paywall” from many media outlets. This move included major publications such as Bloomberg, Wired and The Atlantic, who have typically eschewed this approach in the past.
Meanwhile, long-standing paywall users, like the New York Times, halved the number of articles they offered for free (from 10 to 5 a month), as they sought to grow their number of digital subscribers.
However, although evidence suggests that some audiences are more willing to pay for content, large numbers are not. Furthermore, there’s a risk of “peak paywall” as audiences don’t have enough money to pay for all the subscriptions they might want/need.
Against this backdrop, despite the importance of finding ways to get audience to pay for content, revenue diversification will, therefore, remain critical.
2. Old media remains the elephant in the room
For all of the talk about increased time spent on digital, it’s worth remembering how resilient traditional platforms continue to be. Live radio, for example, may be less sexy than podcasts, but it continues to have mass reach.
As Nielsen noted last year:
“Who would have believed 100 years after its debut AM/FM radio would continue to top the charts as the medium that reaches more consumers each week than any other… Each week, more Americans tune into AM/FM radio (93%) than watch television, or use smartphones, tablets or computers.”
Similarly, of the 11 hours a day U.S. adults spend connected to media, US adults watch “almost six hours a day with video alone.”
The number comprises content consumed via a TV set, computer video, as well as a video focused app/web on smartphones/ tablets.
Digital devices may offer consumers more ways to watch, or listen, than ever before. But, traditional habits die hard. Of the 5 hours 57 mins spent watching video content, 4 hours 46 mins are Live and Time-Shifted TV. We forget the power of TV and Radio at our peril.
3. Social Media usage is evolving
Stories are set to overtake news feeds as the primary means for getting updates on social media. Social networks are responding to this trend by creating opportunities for brands to embrace this trend.
Snapchat saw its user numbers decline, globally, for the first time in a couple of quarters during 2018. (Although their new partnerships with publishers, including in fast growing markets like the Middle East, will ensure that media companies still want to play.)
Worldwide, Facebook continues to expand. But it’s success is a mixed bag.
As Business Insider has highlighted, each app in the Facebook empire added more new users in the past year than Snapchat has in total. (NB: They overlooked Messenger, despite expanding business capabilities, and 1.2 billion users around the world.)
However, in the US, we’ve already seen large numbers of young people deleting the Facebook app; and many existing – especially younger users – are, in my experience, fairly inactive.
Against this backdrop, arguably, the real success story is Instagram. It’s growing rapidly in most markets, is a hit with younger users, and the popularity of stories – a format which Instagram has historically been well designed for – mean this is the platform to watch.
4. When it comes to digital, it’s all about mobile
According to Ofcom, the UK Communications Regulator, people in the UK check their smartphones every 12 minutes.
This mirrored 2017 research, which found that “Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes – burying their heads in their phones 80 times a day… and of the 2,000 people surveyed, one in 10 check their phones on average once every four minutes.”
Seventy-two per cent of UK adults say their smartphone is their most important device for accessing the internet, 71% say they never turn off their phone, and 78% say they could not live without it.
With 62% of all online minutes in the UK now spent on a smartphone, the importance of mobile to both publishers – and consumers – is clear.
5. Voice is a hot, but unproven platform
There’s a lot of excitement about voice – and in particular smart speakers – right now. I share that enthusiasm, but media companies have yet to identify the killer format.
A recent study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University reinforced earlier US-focussed analysis, which found playing music, answering general questions and weather queries, tend to be among the most popular uses of smart speakers.
Using this technology for news updates – or podcast listening – ranks much lower.
For publishers, this means addressing the functional usage of this platform. It also means recognising that simply “churning out” content originally created for other channels, may not be the best way forward.
This is a new platform, and determining the best ways to use it will a learning curve for publishers and consumers alike in 2019.
6. Trust will remain a big issue
Last year research from Edelman found “for the first time media is the least trusted institution globally.” In 22 of the 28 countries featured in their annual Trust Barometer, trust in the media ranked below NGOs, Business, or Government.
By 2018, an Ipsos poll published over the summer, revealed almost a third of Americans agree that the news media is the “enemy of the people.”
Moreover, the same poll also found that 43 percent of self-identified Republicans believe “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”
Trust in platforms too, has taken a bit of a battering. This isn’t surprising, perhaps, given the number of controversies that Facebook alone has found itself embroiled in. The tide is turning against many other tech companies too.
As a result, rebuilding (and maintaining) trust, especially if you want people to pay for your products, will continue to be a fundamental goal for all publishers in the year ahead.