Publishing Trends to Watch in 2020
The weather is cooler, the pumpkins are here, and it’s time for people with opinions to start publishing articles announcing what to watch for in the media and publishing industry in the coming year. There are many others like it, but this one is mine.
The media industry is experiencing a flood of consolidations. From Vox and New York Media to Vice and Refinery29, the publishing industry giants are multi-platform to the nth degree, making the break into video and audio a must for 2020. I also believe this is the year that editors will step into the spotlight as the influencers that they are. Measuring the effectiveness of content will be a top priority for audience developers. And, of course, we’ll all be tailgating the political circus that’s sure to be not only demanding – but, let’s face it – likely consuming the attention of everyone’s audience.
Here’s a closer look at these four 2020 publishing trends:
Audio Will Continue to Be Where It's at
I'm consuming content in a completely different way than I did even two or three years ago. I listen to The Daily podcast each weekday for a reliable dive into the latest stories that are making their way through the news cycle. I watch both local and national news and even get my documentary fix from YouTube. My morning newsletters help me set my perspective for the day. My habits of content consumption change frequently, as I’m sure yours do. If publishers want their content to be a regular presence in their audiences' lives, they need to be in the various places where their audiences are now consuming content.
One of the fastest growing platforms is audio. There’s no reason not to be experimenting in audio in 2020. Starting in 2019, more than half (51%) of the US population listened to a podcast, up from 44% last year. To put it another way, 144 million people (20 million more people than just a year ago) have listened to a podcast.
I love this quote from an article by Leon Neyfakh about news and politics podcasts:
A news podcast “can take the form of an ensemble-led talk show, a story, a magazine, or — more simply — a conversation between two people. Yet what they all arguably have in common is the expectation that they will be consumed by people who are focused, motivated to understand events they can’t control…”
“...podcasting is a distinctly intimate medium, that people form a special connection to podcast hosts because they have us in their ears while they’re walking around and living their lives.”
That’s exactly what publishers crave. An intimate connection with their audience.
Producing audio should be on your multi-platform checklist in 2020 and the barrier for entry is not high. Acquire some podcasting equipment for a few hundred dollars and create a new connection with your audience.
Editors Are Your Influencers
Your editorial team is an extension of your brand. Their social presence, subject matter expertise, and connections can all help you attract an engaged audience, which is why more publishers are finding ways to spotlight editors’ personalities and give them a following all their own.
Bon Appétit’s Test Kitchen editors host viral video series on YouTube (and the brand’s own OTT app), and then Bon Appétit leverages the editors’ influence to convert viewers into subscribers. In this way, the brand has grown print subscriptions by 64% through digitally native channels in the last year.
On a regional level, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine food editor Stephanie Marsh hosts a weekly talk show about dining in the Twin Cities and has her own blog, as well as a decent following on Twitter, where she’s regularly promoting magazine content and engaging with fans.
— Stephanie March (@stephmarch) October 3, 2019
As another example, the editors at D Magazine in Dallas have an engaged presence on social media and through their daily blog, FrontBurner. They are a part of regular conversation about their city and are influential commentators on current events and city scandals. Tim Rogers, the editor of the magazine, appears on local tv segments, hosts live events, and blogs almost daily.
Reader Metrics Will Matter More than Ever
Almost every publisher, whether they will admit it or not, has contemplated putting a paywall on their website by now. There are certainly a lot of factors to consider before you commit to putting a walled garden around your content, but paywall or not, every publisher needs to understand which types of content make their audience tick. Metrics like time on page, email capture, and subscription conversion can help you understand what kind of content your audience values most – and 2020 is the year to really tune in.
Event tracking inside Google Analytics can help publishers start to understand when consumers are most engaged with their content… or not. Tagging content around topics, content types (listicles, longform) and using UTM codes on social media are all ways to help you create reports that will inform your editorial team about which content you need to create more of.
Take inspiration from Keywee’s loyalty score and tag your content by topic to track how your audience interacts with it. Analyze the differences between your audience behavior by traffic source. How do users interact with content when they come in from a social media channel verses from search? We’ve been testing this with some of our clients and are seeing social media audiences interested in completely different topics than our most popular articles on site for the week. Learn what content resonates with all your sources and publish accordingly.
Don’t stop there. Get your editors involved in the metrics. Show them what content resonates with what audience. From there, you can quantify how much revenue is generated from page views and how many users signed up for a subscription after engaging with the content. NiemanLab has an interesting article on the "unit economics" of news content that can help your team understand what moves the needle.
In 2020 you should be analyzing your content at a more granular level and providing your editors with data they need to do their jobs more efficiently.
There’s Going to Be So Much Election Noise
2020 is going to be noisy. It’s a presidential election year in which the results of the election could change the digital marketing landscape. Marketers’ favorite tools for reaching their audience are going to be filled with political messaging, mudslinging, and misinformation. I believe audiences are going to be stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted by the news cycle. This means that your brand needs a strategy to cut through the noise and remain present despite the loud political climate.
The political climate can affect publishers in one of two ways. Either audiences will be so distracted and consumed by information and bickering that it will be almost impossible to attract their attention. Or, the presence of all of those factors will cause audiences to seek solace in content and conversations that distract from politics, and they’ll find comfort in your best restaurants feature or other easy-to-digest content.
Publishers should anticipate the former but prepare for the latter. One way to do this is to focus on delivering value with every interaction and providing the escape people will likely be seeking. I personally love Refinery29’s newsletter sessions and series that are hyper-focused on a particular topic (like clean eating, delivered to your inbox as a 21-day course filled with new ways to think about food, exercise, and stress relief). Get creative with content packaging and delivery in 2020 as a way to stand out and satisfy your audience’s desire for a little distraction.
Melissa Chowning is the CEO of Twenty-First Digital, where she guides her clients’ digital strategies and audience development efforts to drive traffic, engagement, and retention. Formerly the Audience Development Director of D Magazine, Portland Monthly and Seattle Met, Melissa understands that the key to audience growth is also monetization. When she’s not immersed in the digital world, you’ll likely find her reading, listening to podcasts, and keeping busy with her two children, both under the age of 6.