The Impending Yahoo Sale Gives Us Reason to Reflect on Publishing’s Future
Reader behavior may have changed in recent years, with decreasing attention spans and a demand for more instant gratification, but we should be reminded that the same overriding principles apply to our business. We’re all aiming for a greater share of the total reading, watching or listening time.
The target objective for many monthly magazines, in particular, had been to engage a reader for 27 minutes. This was often in 1-3 separate sittings, or 10-20 minutes of undivided attention each month. This approach would seem a little simplistic now. It would be more insightful to look at the target readership, the data surrounding how much time these people spend reading in a given period, and target percentages of this time to draw up sensible expectations for engagement both offline and online. My rather long-winded point here being that this approach would give us a better insight into how to reach these people with our content. 27 minutes may not seem like a lot, but may mean 15 interactions each month.
We all have a myriad of media channels bombarding us with content, whether it’s carefully crafted editorial, marketing messages, or slideshow caption journalism. What matters is that readers will tire and become immune to click bait in the same way they did with print and online advertising formats. They’ll syphon these subconsciously, rendering them invisible in time. What remains is well crafted, curated content.
But let’s not be overly complacent here, publishers do not have the monopoly on quality editorial. Brands have themselves been using well-written, impartial editorial content as a way to build audiences. What started out as simple customer publishing, sending magazines to customers as a marketing tool with a transparent agenda, has developed and matured into a much more valid and sophisticated form of media.
Technology brands like Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, AOL and others have highly respected editorial standards and produce excellent and engaging content of their own. They are media owners in their own right. This gives them a brand credibility which advertising dollars can’t buy for them and it’s very effective. Add to this the much wider range of niche brand media in fashion, home interest, and food (to name just a few) and we have good reason to pay more attention. Great writers and editors are moving on from traditional media organizations to work within outside brands as in-house journalists, often with much better salaries and job security. Brand marketing has clearly evolved yet again in the media owner space and has built a comparable level of credibility.
When considering SWOT analysis of our business we should be paying equal attention to this type of native advertising as we do with social media. Those brands that fed publishers with their advertising dollars are now spending a greater percentage of those budgets on competing for readers’ attention, and therefore capturing the reader data that many media owners have been reluctant to share.
The impending sale of Yahoo’s internet business, therefore, is a deal that merits close attention. After all, this division of Yahoo includes its well-established news sites. Potential bidders have included Time Inc., Alphabet, Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, and all but AT&T and Verizon have dropped out of the race. Verizon appears to be the perceived lead bidder, and offered between $3.5 billion to $5 billion in the second round of bidding. What is clear is that whoever becomes the new owner is likely to attempt a reinvigoration of the business, which has been in decline according to a recent presentation by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
Ultimately, these types of competitors affect publishers in two ways: they add to the competition for reader engagement and the competition for advertising dollars. I’d suggest that these are competitors publishers can’t feasibly cross swords with on a level playing field. Instead, we need to consider new approaches not only to our production cycles and editorial strategies, but also to our overall business models.
So what’s the future for dedicated media owners? Do we envisage a push into retail selling to infringe on our brand competitors? We have the audience and market to do this and the main barrier in the past has been that we may upset our advertisers and retail logistics are complex, both of which are now void arguments. Do we focus more on finding ways of charging readers for our content in bite-size payments per article? Could we see a reversing of the competitive infringement from brands by selling a variety of our own products and marketing services? Native advertising has grown apace at many publishing organizations and is becoming a top revenue driver. But is this enough to compete with giant technology brands like Yahoo?
If Verizon does emerge as the successful bidder, then expect to see plenty of slick housekeeping and a leaner competitor emerge.
Robert Grainger had 15 years experience in magazines in the UK before co-founding Stonewash, building apps for publishers, in 2009. He served as the CEO of Stonewash until its sale in 2015 and has served on the board of SiiA (Europe), as well as being a regular speaker and commentator on the subject of digital media.