Industry Stories

How Content Publishers Can Succeed in a Digital-First World

Publishers use analytics and technology to offset the collapse of traditional subscription and advertising models. However, organizations must accelerate digital transformation to keep pace with the decline of their largest sources of revenue. Research by the Winterberry Group found an 11.2% decline in U.S. magazine print advertising and a 12.7% decline for newspapers this past year.

Digital transformation is required across multiple areas, including advertising, content acquisition, editorial operations and audience engagement. This evolution has the potential to attract, create and retain digital subscribers; develop new revenue streams; and differentiate the leaders from the rest of the pack. Publishers that outperform their peers have done so by:

  • Investing in the creation of unique content and providing a rich, engaging audience experience.
  • Integrating their core operations into a digital platform-based service.

Where publishers should focus

Successful digital transformation can be sustained only with a “from the ground up” investment to develop enhanced analytics companywide. Leadership must demonstrate the discipline to consistently use these insights to make strategic and tactical decisions. This implies that a digitally focused publishing company should also be a technology company with a strong and driven IT team, and the ability to:

  • Automate business processes.
  • Locate innovative technology differentiators.
  • Initiate and lead technology-based transformation initiatives.

This requires sustained investment in core IT teams or collaboration with partners experienced in technology transformation or global delivery. With more mature technology, publishers can tap into the growing number of innovative ideas and efforts.

New digital formats

Virtual and augmented reality and immersive video are increasingly popular options for content presentation in a complex and ever-changing publishing world. While content creation can be straightforward, finding new and unique ways to present that content is challenging and can differentiate a publisher from the competition.

Content delivery

Compelling content is only part of the story. Publishers must reach their audiences where they live, work and play. Currently, that means a dizzying number of devices with different screen sizes, processors, bandwidths, and other technical capabilities and limitations. Content delivery must be intelligent enough to provide a satisfying experience to large audiences who are using a diverse collection of devices. The Flipboard app, customized for mobile, tablet and web, is an example of a platform that hits that mark.

Personalized content

Publishers curate, personalize and recommend content based on subscriber segmentation. Platforms have the ability to provide supplemental and complementary content for ever-smaller slices of the audience. Google and Facebook have grown into advertising behemoths thanks to their detailed user profiling. While most publishers are not likely to receive data with that granularity, they do have access to metadata that can target consumers with content they want. YouTube, Medium and BuzzFeed are popular personalization success stories.

Audience analytics

Successful publishers gather state-of-the-art audience engagement analytics and content consumption metrics. This is a crucial piece of the value chain, an element that differentiates industry leaders. The variety and depth of metrics provide the insights needed to drive other efforts. However, analytics cannot be a “set up once and forget” effort. It requires a dedicated team of data scientists and analysts to evaluate the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). These professionals must continually fine-tune the parameters, challenge the current metrics, and invent new metrics and KPIs. The next important aspect is to make these insights available to the content creators and close the creation feedback loop, much like what the New York Times did with its Stela, or Story and Event Level Analytics.

Optimize costs

In the past couple of decades, publishers have focused on all types of cost cutting as a survival mechanism. Increasingly, technology-led platforms can help those companies better optimize the costs of noncore services. It is critical for publishers to understand their strengths and weaknesses in both core and noncore areas. To give the creative side the attention it needs, all non-value-adding but essential operations should be optimized. This includes retaining or outsourcing those operations. Publishers should benchmark their current capabilities, systems and infrastructure against industry standards and invest to reach those measures. For instance, Arc Publishing is an offshoot of a Washington Post initiative to build the next-generation content management system for news publishers. This system is now being licensed to other news organizations without the need for significant marketing or overhead.

Find every edge

Focusing on core competencies and optimizing noncore systems are necessary for modern publishers. But that is not enough. These companies must also diversify into other businesses and alternate revenue sources, such as e-commerce, experiential advertising, content aggregation, internal business process and operations expertise, technology platforms, and the bundling of complementary content.

The next generation of content publishers need to be agile, tech-savvy and data-centric in every aspect of their businesses. Publishers must understand that the meaningful impacts of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can be realized only when they identify the right problems and business needs. Then publishers can align the entire enterprise and invest to make this approach work. Ultimately, this gives publishers more freedom to do what they do best: Publish.