2017 has brought its share of ups and downs for the digital media industry...
Digital ad revenues are growing, but all the benefits are going to Facebook and Google. With GDPR about to come into force, adtech vendors are also seeing their clients requesting alternatives to the programmatic models they usually push. Add to that brands pulling their ads from YouTube because of fears about brand safety, and the picture is one of people asking serious questions about the future of the ad-funded revenue model.
Finding new revenue streams has never been so crucial for online publishers, but the audience can’t be the losers in the fight to stay competitive - reader engagement and loyalty have to be priorities.
On Santa’s “Nice” list you’ll find the people who took a chance on innovative and different business strategies in 2017 - increasing their engagement by improving their user experience. On the other hand, anyone doubling down on shady data usage practices and aggressive ad models is looking at a lump of coal in their stocking and a place on the "Naughty" list.
So who ended up in Santa's good and bad books this year?
The first gold star goes to publishers who've moved away from the display-advertising model that has been ruining the internet since 1993: Slate has been a great example. They're re-thinking their entire advertising strategy and making user-friendly changes:
- instructing their editorial team to focus on ‘total engaged minutes’ - i.e. users actually enjoying their experience - and not simply maximizing revenue per page view
- making sure their video ad formats are autoplay muted, because “I love being interrupted by loud, unwanted content” said nobody ever
- labelling their ad units so that they are easily distinguishable from editorial content
- improving their UX by having all their top-of-the-page ads at a maximum height of 250 pixels to make sure the page won’t shift when the ad loads
In the spirit of better UX, Dazed also gets on the list for redesigning its website and cutting out display ads. The result? Time on site increased by 21%.
We never imagined Google would make the Nice list... In fact, all the Google-bashing that was the backdrop to this year's Ad Week in London over brand safety would normally be enough to send them straight to Krampus. But, credit where credit’s due - Google’s new ad-blocking tool should really improve the user experience on content sites.
The New York Times
Here at Bibblio, we value quality journalism over clickbait articles aimed at grabbing low-value attention. This is why we were thrilled to learn that The New York Times, the flagship for subscription journalism, has doubled their audience in two years, with more than 3.5 million paid subscriptions and more than 130 million monthly readers.
We predict this is just the acceleration of the trend of public support for membership models - people are prepared to pay for quality.
2017 has been the year of initiatives to tackle the “Fake News” problem, which roared into the mainstream with the US elections. Publishers are working hard to find solutions, and ‘Fact-checking’ units have become popular - the BBC’s Reality Check tool has become a permanent feature and Norwegian media organizations started a fact-checking collaboration.
British publishers also experimented with bots to provide voters accurate and diverse information in the run-up to the general election on June 8, and credit to The Times for launching the “filter-bubble buster” to try to get people to read articles outside of their comfort zone.
Unfortunately, the fight against fake news attracted some opportunistic hangers-on. Ad-serving platform Revcontent launched a “Truth in Media” initiative, encouraging users to flag content they considered fake news. This ‘initiative’ ended up being a single extra button in the dropdown allowing users to flag content as inappropriate. This clumsy attempt at a rebrand, which we’ve discussed before, was pretty transparently nothing more than a data-gathering exercise to find out exactly what their users will tolerate.
Taboola continues to chase after Facebook’s audience in the desperate race for clicks. They've been struggling to keep readers on their users' sites, as they quickly bounce and return to their Facebook feed. Could this have anything to do with the clickbait-y nature and low quality of Taboola’s external links? Not according to their CEO, who wants to address the problem by featuring content recommendations in the form of a continuously scrolling list, a new take on, well, Facebook’s news feed.
For all of us who hoped 2017 was going to mark the end of endless feedback loops encouraging unhealthy behaviour, maybe 2018 will be our year.
Amazon has recently stepped up its efforts to become a media player, and one way that it’s doing that is by leaning on publishing partners for content. That’s led to a deterioration of its relationship with partners, many of whom are tired of meeting the company’s demands only to see little return on their investment. As it turns out, Amazon’s primary goals of growing its e-commerce business and Prime membership program often conflict with publishers’ goals of growing audience and consumer revenue. Who’d have thought that Amazon might not have publishers’ best interests at heart?
It probably comes as no surprise that Google would be on our Naughty list too... YouTube has been losing support from users and brands alike after a series of high-profile missteps: the ad boycott, the de-monetization algorithm and the scandal of YouTube Kids. Though the tech giant is trying to make amends, it's unfortunate that it seems to only find its conscience just as soon as its revenue is threatened. Brands will come back to YouTube, but in the meantime some content creators will need to look for other ways to make up the shortfall.
Oh Facebook. Always Facebook.
The social media behemoth recently launched a messenger app aimed at 6-12 year-old children. Because, 'safety'. Of course. It's a dangerous world out there, and it's not as if anybody else is providing a secure messaging service for the under-13s...
This certainly wasn't to get children addicted to the platform at as young an age as possible so as to monetize their online behavior and make up for waning growth. Definitely not that.
Take a bow, Facebook.
Now on the off chance that Santa is an avid Medium reader, the Bibblio team would like to share our Christmas list: a better web, driven by discovery and learning instead of sensationalism and user exploitation.
It’s a tall order, but we’re sure Santa, with a bit of help from the public, can deliver. And as the publishing community, we can all help ourselves too this Christmas by building better experiences and tools to keep the readers happy, fulfilled and coming back for more.