Over the last decade, the digital publishing industry has experienced sweeping changes as consolidation, closures and layoffs have eroded the market. Gone are the days when unique content and socially-driven audience growth would set you up for funding and long-term success. Today, it’s survival of the fittest as publishers clamor to effectively distribute content, interact with advertisers, and engage their readers in meaningful ways.
As this shift continues, the media industry is steadily realizing that there are scaling issues grounded in everything from technology and funding, to revenue, product innovation and audience development. In fact, one survey found that infrastructure and maintaining website speed were among the top 3 concerns of digital publishers.
Publishers can no longer sit on the sidelines doing things the way they used to. In this new climate, the more successful digital publishers are those that focus not just on premium content, but on the supporting infrastructure that makes running a digital publishing business scalable and perhaps even, profitable.
Brands that built themselves to be diversified and not reliant on a single point of audience development and revenue are finding that they are better suited to ride out the current media landscape. On the contrary, increasing numbers of legacy publishers find themselves playing catch-up to uncover new routes to sustainability, which for some is the new version of ‘growth’. Based on our own experience, here are three key areas that digital publishers need to prioritize for lasting growth.
Invest in technology and infrastructure
Consider this: if you build your own house, but rent the appliances to make it run, you are trying to make off-the-shelf products work, when in reality you need custom-fit solutions for your house to be successful. The same premise extends to digital publishing. If publishers have to work with multiple vendors, contacts, and solutions to find the stack that works for them, it’s rarely the most time or cost-effective, let alone scalable approach.
Infrastructure requirements have changed significantly over the last 10 years with significant investment in diversified revenue streams, content formats, monetization and business intelligence as must-have growth drivers in any digital media business. However, these are the same areas that were initially overlooked when many digital media brands first launched. While it may be more challenging to go back and retrofit your organization’s technology and infrastructure to today’s environment, it’s one of the most worthwhile investments you can make.
At Minute Media, we decided to build our own stack to meet our needs and address all the facets of the modern newsroom. As a result, we’ve been able to save on operational costs while being nimble enough to stay ahead of our business needs.
Renew your focus on monetization
Today’s publishers need to have revenue diversification to survive. Would TV ever have sustained with a singular focus on over-the-air television? Without the birth of syndication, affiliate fees, licensing, international and VOD, TV from 25 years ago would be in the same shape as most print businesses. Building a publishing business that previously relied on sponsorship or subscription is no longer sufficient. Publishers need to have a variety of ways to bring home the money. We’ve worked to establish multiple revenue streams across direct and programmatic sales, content syndication deals, video distribution partnerships, technology licensing agreements and more.
Embrace data to make content-related decisions
There’s no denying that content is still king and what drives engagement and loyal readers, but the way that publishers make the content work has changed. Today, content needs to do a lot more than just exist on a page. Business intelligence and data are key to making smart, informed decisions about content and should drive a minimum of 50 percent of your daily editorial decisioning. For publishers that under-invest in BI or choose to not make it a priority may as well be throwing darts wearing a blindfold.
Using data more intelligently and intentionally will help you improve your readers’ experience as well; by giving them what you know they’re looking for as opposed to a “one-size-fits-all” approach. And its not just the deep dive data that should be considered but also understanding where users are coming from. Do you treat your users the same if they arrive from Facebook, Google, Flipboard, organically or otherwise? It’s time to re-think that journey and the corresponding approach.
At Minute Media, we created a standalone business intelligence team that informs every content decision across all media brands. In particular, SEO and traffic inform the editorial scope to make sure that every piece of content is optimized to the fullest. We also use data-driven technology to provide additive engagement experiences within an article that are contextual and align with the content being read by the user. For instance, if a user is reading about the upcoming Knicks game, they may be served a trivia widget that tests their NBA and/or Knicks knowledge. This provides increased value to the user and increases time spent on site.
As the digital publishing industry continues to evolve, it will become increasingly critical for publishers to use the vast tools available to them to make their content as appealing and customizable as possible. But without the right infrastructure in place to inform and monetize that content to its max, you will likely find yourself struggling to paddle upstream.
Asaf Peled, CEO, Minute Media
About: Minute Media is the owner of five digital media publications across the world, including 90min, DBLTAP, 12up, Mental Floss, The Big Lead. The company has created one of the industry’s leading digital publishing platforms and uses this proprietary technology to power content and media solutions for its own properties in addition to the licensing of standalone and full-stack solutions to other publishers and brands.