Guest Columns
4 mins read

Digital Publishing in 2020: Navigating COVID-19 and coming out stronger than ever


The business world is a very different place compared to just six months ago. Perhaps no more so than in publishing, where we’ve seen the distribution and printing of newspapers, magazines and books all but stop in some markets, while at the same time the audience for news, entertainment – and let’s face it, escapism – has exploded.

In many media industries, the digital channel has become the most important (if not only) means of reaching your consumers and firms have seen record growth in readership and traffic. In fact, Akamai reported a global traffic increase of 30% on its network for the month of March. In publishing, in particular, readership is booming. Some firms, like The Atlantic and The New York Times, are seeing record growth in digital subscriptions. At the same time, many publishers that rely on advertising revenue are feeling the squeeze as major firms in travel, retail, auto, and entertainment slash their ad spend. In short, there are many, many more readers, but fewer ways to monetize them.

Today, publishers face three significant challenges: keeping sites up and running under the weight of record traffic, a remote working employee base, and turning new readers/viewers into regular visitors whose loyalty remains with your brand when things return to “normal.” Along with killer content, site performance, stability, and security are key here – get these right and the consumer experience of your content will create the impetus for that return visit and future loyalty.

This is especially true on mobile devices/clients where limited screen real-estate, shakier connectivity, and shorter browsing sessions conspire to turn great content into an unappealing mess.

Successful publishers can emerge from the pandemic and its immediate aftereffects stronger than ever – some will also see a significantly reduced pool of competitors – but how do we get there from here?

It’s not going to be easy, but I’d argue publishers can do this by:

  • Maximizing limited ad dollars: Ad dollars are very hard to come by and will continue to be lower for the foreseeable future if we have a sustained global recession. However, advertising money is still strong in some areas – understanding where is an important step. For example, marketers of government campaigns, FMCG firms, home entertainment, and technology are still largely spending money despite this overall state of uncertainty. In some cases, they may have actually increased their ad spend during this pandemic. Aligning ad placement to changing consumer habits and devices is also key and this comes by truly knowing your audience. One clear way to do this is by encouraging the registration of users to get important information directly from them. This provides a better sense of who your audience is in order to ultimately sell the right ads to the right people.
  • Prioritizing the web experience: Keeping your website running smoothly, despite an increase in traffic from consumers with extra downtime, while ensuring that your content meets their standards when they need it most, keeps brand reputation strong. The rules haven’t changed here – good layout, responsiveness, catering for multiple devices and form factors while preserving simple navigation and readability make the difference. Once we come out on the other side of this, you can potentially keep some of these new eyeballs.
  • Watch costs and make sure your remote workforce can work effectively: The difference between furloughing a staff member and keeping them working can be as simple as constantly optimizing file sizes and watching cloud origin costs. Your business pays by the byte for delivery and cloud egress (i.e. extraction from cloud storage), so making sure images and video files are as small as they can be and caching at the edge will reduce those costs, which quickly add up when you hit new highs in traffic. Additionally, make sure your staff can remotely work effectively as a team with the right support and tools – we likely won’t all be back together in the office for a long time!
  • Driving registration & subscriptions if at all possible: In lieu of ad dollars, publishers who have put subscription (or donation) systems in place can appeal to readers to sign up. This drives immediate revenue and speeds up the switch from advertising to reader revenue that most publishers are aiming for. Even encouraging readers to download the app or podcasts helps hone your understanding of your expanded audience.
  • Not losing sight of security: Security is a necessary overhead – one that might be tempting to skimp on to improve performance or get fresh content live quicker – but there is a lot more at stake here. From blocking malicious bots to ensuring proper protection for non-paywalled content to securing remote working communications and protecting user identities, keeping your digital properties secure is a must.

Staying Strong

Publishing has weathered many storms over the years – like the print decline and the impact of digital in the late 2000s – and it will weather this pandemic too. As consumers continue to value objectivity, authoritative coverage and quality journalism, publishers will continue to find an audience.

The remaining seven months of 2020 will certainly be very tough, especially since no one really knows what the future holds. However, as an industry, we have to hunker down and emerge stronger than ever when things return to normal. Digital is the best way to preserve and grow that link to readers – most firms have already recognized this – but the pandemic may just accelerate how quickly this switch will happen.

Paul Jackson
Senior Manager, Akamai

About Akamai: Akamai’s intelligent edge platform surrounds everything, from the enterprise to the cloud, so customers and their businesses can be fast, smart, and secure. Top brands globally rely on Akamai to help them realize competitive advantage through agile solutions that extend the power of their multi-cloud architectures.