The view from London: five insights on the future of digital media and publishing

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Takeaways from the Future of Media and Publishing meetup's London event in March

At Bibblio we recently organized our second Future of Media & Publishing meetup in London, a forum to explore and discuss the challenges and opportunities in digital content. Hosted by the team at Work.Life, the meetup took place at their Clerkenwell offices.

Delegates at Future of Media & Publishing London, 2nd meetup

The presenters for the evening were Nick Flood (Deputy MD, Digital, at Dennis) and Pierre Far (Founder of Blockmetry). The moderator for the panel was Molly Flatt (Associate Editor of FutureBook, Associate Editor of The Memo and Digital Editor of PHOENIX), and joining the speakers and moderator on the panel was Emillie Ruston (Head of Customer Success at Pugpig). It was great to put together such a range of talents and viewpoints.

The evening covered a range of topics, from diversifying revenue to GDPR. We've collected five key takeaways from the evening to help people in the never-ending dance to stay one step ahead. We've complemented these insights with a list of services recommended by the panellists to help navigate the world of online content:

Why not join us next timeFuture of Media & Publishing London - 3rd meetup

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#1 Double down on SEO again

Social media is not helping publishers and content media out. Twitter accounts for less then 2.5% of traffic to publishers; Instagram and Pinterest barely supply 1% together. Currently, Facebook represents 22%, but their role in distributing publisher’s content has been falling dramatically for more than a year, and is only accelerating.

Google referrals, on the other hand, are on the rise. In his talk on diversifying revenue, Nick shared his insight on the importance of ranking high on the search giant’s pages:

Nick Flood
Nick Flood, Deputy MD, Digital, at Dennis

“Good SEO is critical for us; 90% of traffic to Dennis’s portfolio is organic. To be number one on SERPs for finance deals or reviews drives tens of thousands of users. We haven’t focused on social: for example we didn’t believe in engaging potential car buyers on Facebook. This means that Dennis has been really protected from all the Facebook changes recently.”

Nick has seen a massive uptick in organic traffic from Google lately, and it seems to be a reward for prioritising high quality content and good recommendations:

“I think there was a slight change in the algorithm in January ‘18. Our editorial team writing unique guides, reviews and news has really paid off. We also do contextual recommendations of our own product offers across Dennis sites.”

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#2 As more visitors turn to mobile, focus on initiatives that make your site faster

Parse.ly network data shows that on average over 65% of traffic to publisher and brand sites in 2017 was “pure mobile”. Now, at the beginning of 2018, mobile and tablets drive 73% of traffic to publishers. Over the past year, Mobile Google Search traffic to AMP-enabled publishers working with Chartbeat is up 100%.

Nick emphasized that site speed is critical, especially for mobile:

“60% of Dennis visitors are now on mobile. We’re working with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Progressive Web App (PWA). I’d recommend to get really involved in PWA. It’s going to be absolutely massive from an e-commerce perspective too.”

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#3 Have a strategy for ad blocking and analytics blocking on your site

It’s hitting you harder than you might think. Pierre has been gathering worldwide data on ad blocking and analytics blocking since 2016. He shared some key findings in his talk:

“The general trends in ad blocking and analytics blocking are too general. Every website and even every site section is unique. Ad blocking on article pages works differently than on your homepage. It also depends in which country and what time your site is visited.

Pierre Far
Pierre Far, Founder of Blockmetry

"For example, In the UK we have the highest ad blocking rate at 3am. People browsing at that hour are blocking ads like mad - it can get as high as 60% at that time.

“And don’t forget about the cheapest way to block ads: disabling JavaScript. 0.2% of page views worldwide have this programming language disabled. That doesn’t seem like much. In some countries it’s significant though. In Finland it’s 1.2%. In the East-Asian countries China, Taiwan, South-Korea and Japan the JavaScript disable rate ranges from 1.5 to 2.5%.”

Pierre pointed out that ad blocking tools won’t only hurt your ad revenue, but can also add lots of noise to your audience insights:

“As a publisher you need to be aware that most ad blocking software also blocks your analytics. At the moment, worldwide, 8.5% of page views doesn’t fire the Google Analytics tag. In some countries we’re talking even bigger numbers: 20% in Germany, 16% in France and 12% in USA. In the UK it’s 7.5% but that percentage is rising. If you want a nice bonus and get a huge bump in your traffic, then install an anti-ad blocker with an accurate measurement tool built in.”

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#4 Own the relationship with your audience

With GDPR and ePrivacy regulations coming into play later this year, publishers, marketers and ad-tech companies will need to get users to consent to their data being used for personalizing the content and ad experience.

There’s still some confusion over when businesses need to get consent and exactly what consent is required, and some are trying to push liability to others in the chain. According to Pierre, publishers need to pay close attention:

“GDPR and the ePrivacy regulation will affect how internet service providers (ISPs), ad networks and browsers behave. Do watch this space very carefully, as the incentives are not always aligned with publishers’ and users’ needs.”

Presentations at Future of Media & Publishing London, 2nd meetup

He believes that of all the actors involved, the browsers are the best candidates for being nurtured as allies for publishers and media. This is because they care about their users and the experience they offer. But the ultimate play, Pierre underlined, is always going to be a direct relationship with your users:

“In my opinion, the only defensible relationship is between the publisher and the user. It’s crucial to own the relationship with your audience - it’s where the value exchange happens. Own the monetization of your relationship too. Don’t outsource it for pennies on the pound via someone else.”

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#5 Diversify your content and monetization too

The background concern for every publisher and media business is how to become less dependent on platforms, create sustainable audience growth and safeguard against unstable ad revenues. The key to that in 2018 is diversification, and that means content as well as revenue sources.

As new technologies develop and mature, the way we consume content is changing. Businesses need to have one eye on where developments are headed. Nick shed some light on the world of audio:

“I’m confident that the vast majority of people currently only use Alexa in their home to listen to the radio or play their favourite Spotify playlist. But this will change. In three of four years it’ll be a smart device in your home controlling your lights, heating... and reading out publishers’ stories too.”

It's no longer just Alexa - it's Google Home and Apple's HomePod as well - and voice is an increasing part of search, and therefore SEO, too. The truth is that it's easier to say things than to type them, and that's being reflected in the growing number of voice searches on Google. Don't ignore this trend. 

Molly Flatt
Molly Flatt, Associate Editor of FutureBook, Associate Editor of The Memo and Digital Editor of PHOENIX

Another form of content, or really a delivery mechanism of content, which got a lot of airtime was the newsletter. Molly talked about the interesting evolution this format has gone through:

“Back in the day I loved them, then they suffered because of the spam backlash email got and now they have an amazing renaissance. A good newsletter should feel like a personal space - a curated escape from the wilds of endless content.”

With the current focus on "time well spent", as well as progress in recommendation and personalization, the well-targeted newsletter might be about to experience a moment in the sun.

Needless to say, the other hot topic when it comes to diversification is revenue. Without a variety of sustainable revenue sources, there's a real risk that a business loses the ability to steer its future, and an external move like a Facebook algorithm tweak can lead to it shutting down, which happened to publisher LittleThings.

One way of diversifying your revenue streams is a subscription or membership model. Many publishers are experimenting with freemium models, hard paywalls or even metered paywalls that bend to the individual reader based on signals that indicates how likely they’ll be to subscribe.

Our panelists see the value of direct revenue for the reader, but recognize it’s not for everyone. Nick believes that if you offer over-commoditized media, introducing a paywall is not going to solve your problems: “I don’t think there are a lot of people willing to pay for celebrity stories.”

Emillie Ruston
Emillie Ruston, Head of Customer Success at Pugpig

Having said that, Emillie has seen publishers she works with make a success out of asking for direct payment from users, but the price is often volume:

“The advertising model has taken a hit. When you have a subscription or membership model in place you tend to have a smaller user base, but the users you do have return and stay a lot longer on your site.

“People do want to pay for better content. It's important to have the payment option as part of a seamless user experience, either via an app store or easily using the browser."

Is a form of paywall, metered of otherwise, the only way to get readers to pay for editorial content? Nick offered some thoughts on other options publishers could consider:

“Doing paywalls really well is really hard. There are different strategies too. For example you could also ask people to disable their ad blocker to get access to your best content, work with Brave or another extension that allows people to reward you.”

Asking users to reward you in the form of user donations, like the Guardian has been doing since last summer, has made its impact on the wider publishing industry too. Molly spoke about the direct-to-user disruption she has seen in the book trade:

“We’ve seen a huge growth in crowdfunded books through sites like Unbound, where you, as the crowd, trade your money for a degree of editorial control and a say about design and production. We’ve already seen some great stories like ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ and ‘The Good Immigrant’ come out of that. It’s the activist way of improving diversity in the industry too.”

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#Bonus: Five ways to navigate your way through the world of online content

Our speakers and panellists are consumers too. The panel was asked which applications and features they use when catching up on great content. Here are the top picks:

#1 Pocket: a save-for-later content service. Once you’ve saved an interesting article to this service, it’s visible on any device. It can also be viewed offline. Thanks for the tip, Emillie.

#2 The Economist Espresso: A morning briefing from the editors, 6 days a week. One article of your choosing can be read for free daily. Pierre on the free app: “An app with a finitefeed is a wonderful thing to have in 2018.”

#3 Future Crunch: Curation of stories about scientific breakthroughs and other good news. Molly on Future Crunch: “They are taking this idea that online is awash with bad news, and combating it with a newsletter that’s all about positivity backed by stats and research.”

#4 Safari’s Reader mode: a way for users to peruse a web page without distractions from ads, videos, sponsored content links, and other web elements. Once again thanks to Emillie.

#5 The Disconnect: an offline-only magazine of commentary, fiction, and poetry. A great suggestion by Molly.

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