6 Growth Opportunities for Publishers in 2018
But amidst the wreckage are some favorable trends and promising opportunities. Here are six that publishers should be looking to exploit in 2018:
1. Brand safety
A year or so ago, the accepted wisdom in the digital marketing world was that it no longer mattered where your ad appeared when you could target precisely who was seeing it. But 2017 was the year the advertising world woke up to major brand advertisers’ support of fake news, violence, extremism, and all other matter of evil.
“Brand safety” is now topic #1 in advertising circles. And that’s a major opportunity for respected publishers.
“Only when brands partner with reputable publishers can they have full confidence in where their ads are being placed,” says Shelagh Daly Miller of AARP in a recent article on Advertising Age. That’s a message that should be all over our industry’s media kits. And tattooed onto the foreheads of our ad reps.
But there’s a caveat: Be sure your house is in order. You can’t exactly claim the high ground when your web site uses a recommendation engine that touts sleazy clickbait headlines like “19 Hottest Female Politicians”.
2. Content Marketing
Another hot topic in the advertising world is agencies’ struggles to keep up with clients’ demands for high-quality content.
No more can they just write puff pieces for their clients or assign the work to that “I always wanted to be a writer” intern. Clients are demanding quality – articles and other content that people will actually read. The kind of stuff magazine publishers produce, in other words.
Publishers are already cashing in on the demand for top-notch content marketing, but there still seems to be a lot of untapped potential for us.
3. Reader Payments
2017 was the beginning of the end for the “information wants to be free” era. Readers became warier of being misled and showed an increased willingness to pay for reliable, valuable content.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for paid web content. Each publisher has to weigh the potential gains in subscription revenue against the inevitable shrinkage in the number of page-views for ads.
Possible tactics include leaky paywalls, metered paywalls, charging only for premium content, and only allowing paid subscribers to comment or to participate in an online community.
But what about giving paying customers early access to certain articles, before they become available on the free web? Or giving readers access to paywalled content if they subscribe to a free newsletter?
Book-industry veteran and commentator Mike Shatzkin sees a bright future for periodicals publishers in the book business. Those that now sell books primarily to their existing audiences will soon compete more directly with traditional book publishers, he believes.
“Somebody — Amazon or Ingram [a major book distributor] or somebody else — is going to start working their way through these periodical publishers,” Shatzkin predicted last month, “and encourage them to professionalize their book operations and make what they do universally available. Doing this requires only a tiny incremental effort over what it takes to gestate the book in the first place.”
Shatzkin’s “somebody else” may turn out to be traditional book publishers that seek out joint ventures with periodical publishers.
Magazines, after all, have everything book publishers look for in a non-fiction author – good writing, subject-matter expertise, a well-known brand, and a large following. Not to mention plenty of existing content that can easily be repackaged into books.
Last year was not kind to mass-market publishing, whether in print or on the web. With access to a firehose of information, readers want to sip only what’s relevant to their specific needs and interests. And advertisers have become less interested in the number of eyeballs they reach, focusing instead on reaching the right people.
Meanwhile, niche titles off all stripes seem to be proliferating and thriving, attracting both readers and advertisers.
Riding the niche wave doesn’t necessarily mean slashing your circulation in half – though some consumer publishers might benefit from such a radical diet.
On your web site, it’s easy to create a product-within-a-product, with content laser-targeted to a subset of your normal audience. That can bring in new sponsors that specifically want to reach the kind of people interested in such content.
On the print side, inserts, bonus sections, customized covers, and polybagged special reports are among the ways to reach targeted audiences. Some publishers are having success with combo ad packages – a full-page ad in the magazine plus a more in-depth cover wrap or insert for a special event or audience.
6. Ad Networks
OK, this is not exactly a new trend. For decades, brands have been able to buy ads in the regional editions of multiple consumer magazines via MNI. They can run an ad on thousands of web sites or in thousands of newspapers by placing an order with a single organization.
Two months ago, the B2B Media Exchange debuted as a marketplace for programmatic digital ads with more than 100 publishers – many of them magazine publishers.
So why is placing a national ad in multiple magazines still such an arduous, manual process? When are we going to band together and create a multi-publisher system for buying and selling print ads?