How Publishers Can Start Monetizing Smart Speakers
If you ask an Amazon Echo how to monetize a voice assistant or smart speaker, it will tell you, “Sorry, I don’t know that one.” Many publishers are in the same boat.
Already with enough on their plate, publishers are looking at voice similarly to how they viewed mobile a decade ago. It’s interesting, but the landscape is ever-changing and that leaves plenty of questions about when and how to jump in.
“There is a first-mover advantage … the early bird gets the worm,” says Lisa Lacy, tech reporter for AdWeek. “But you have to have more of a reason than that.”
Fueling the interest are the consumer adoption metrics for voice assistants, like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The Consumer Technology Association reports that 31% of American households have at least one smart speaker and that the number of owners has doubled each of the past two years. Microsoft predicts 75% of U.S. homes will have at least one smart speaker by 2020.
Amazon Echo leads the market with around 70% share, according to a report from the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Google owns 24% and Apple HomePod trails with 6%. Apple isn’t sitting still and has plans to be much louder in this market, and Facebook plans to enter the race as well.
If you aren’t too familiar with the category that is still deciding whether to call itself smart speakers or voice assistants, it’s OK. Publishing Executive contributor Rob Keenan previously covered the basics and discussed how publishers can prepare for voice. Now we’ll explore how you can monetize smart speakers.
As you can see from the players involved, the technology has the cash and wherewithal to grow rapidly. But how do publishers make any money with them? Making money with Amazon takes skill. More accurately, it takes “Skill,” the term Amazon uses to describe the third-party applications built to accomplish everything from turning on your smart lamp to playing a rundown of the latest news. Google’s apps are called “Actions” and serve a similar role.
Publishers absolutely can play in this space and have a leg up because they already, in many cases, have a content engine.
“If you have audio or content that lends itself well to audio, like news, then there are some fairly clear avenues to make money," says Bret Kinsella, founder, CEO, and editor of Voicebot.ai. “Then they have to figure out the best way to monetize and the best way to build audience.”
Today, the most relevant revenue scenarios – typically through Skills and Actions – include:
The leading monetization option for publishers is providing content along with a sponsor mention. It’s a model that provides comfort to advertisers and publishers because it’s not new. The platforms have embraced this option, as well, which is important. New technology with closed environments can have unfortunate changes to revenue.
Entertainment and gaming apps on the voice assistants can carry a subscription cost. These typically fall in the $1-$4 per month category but can be higher for high-interest content. Consumers pay to give their smart speaker access to the music databases from Spotify, Pandora, or Apple Music. It’s about accessibility and personalization.
Promotional outlet for paid content
Promote longform paid content with shorter snippets that whet the audience’s appetite. The Blinkist Minute is a prime example. It’s a short window leading listeners into the app’s 3,000 non-fiction titles.
Selling exclusive content rights to the platforms
This is a newer model and has so far been reserved only for high-interest content like sporting events or children’s books. The streaming video market (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) ended up here, so having a strategy or proposal might pay off.
Building a killer app
Amazon specifically touts a program that pays developers based on high consumer engagement. If you have a great idea, there’s a chance it will make you money. It might also save you money, earning promotional credits within the Amazon platform.
Voice shopping, voice ordering
Why are 91% of companies investing in voice technology? Because of the retail implications. The platforms already allow app builders to integrate commerce systems, either native (Google Express/Amazon) to the platform or even third-party. For the skeptical, think about having a pizza delivered to your hungry family when you are stuck in traffic. The convenience, along with proven security, will drive this.
As with all technological options, some of the best paths to revenue require a compass and a machete – you may need to carve your own path. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Continuing education credits
Some industries have specific CE requirements that can be achieved through content immersion. Team that with a voice or web-based quiz, and your industry’s governing body may be a good partnership target.
Buying decision and branding through information
Rather than creating a brand Skill or Action, publishers may find greater success building a subject-based app and creating a product placement/mention scenario.
Habit-forming experiences or relevant niche efficiency tools
Much like in mobile when publishers jumped from standard news reader apps to handy calculators or weather apps, the tools approach might pay off in this space, too.
And finally, here’s an easy-to-adopt option for publishers wanting to take advantage of the technology in the near future:
Artificially intelligent, interactive voice bot
If a well-programmed chat bot can converse on topics, it only takes a few more steps to have a voice bot conversing on key educational topics in a niche area, directing to other content and, possibly, sponsor or sponsored content, as well. Publishers with a mountain of content are primed for this type of implementation.
How to Build It
There are a number of ways to make money, many of which have yet to be invented. And Google and Amazon provide helpful tools to show how to build the necessary apps. But experts warn that it isn’t simple.
“A company needs to make a decision to commit to executing an audio and voice strategy,” says Helena Ronis, cofounder and CEO at VoxSnap. “The barrier is that it takes effort to do it right.”
The first choice is to dump the project on your own IT or development staff. The benefit of in-housing is that it creates corporate tech knowledge and allows micro control over expenses in a growing digital area. This approach, Kinsella warns, can get products off the ground but may not pay off in the medium- or long-term.
“The platforms are adding features at a rapid pace, so you really have to have someone who is monitoring on a regular basis or you fall behind quickly or have aspects of your voice app break,” says Kinsella.
Additionally, development involves at least the two leading devices, but Apple and Facebook could both take off, forcing that same internal team to develop or hire new talent. Making it exponentially more challenging is the fact that builders can’t ignore the display user experience while focusing on the conversational UI. Each of the platforms has – or will have – video capabilities to integrate into smart home monitors.
Finally, building and maintaining a voice offering merely gets it on the platforms. Then builders need to promote the Skills and Actions so that users can experience the offering. The native discovery mechanisms are poor and getting even worse as the volume increases. There are more than 50,000 Amazon Skills and more than 4,200 Google Actions. Finding a specific Skill can be as easy as unearthing a needle in a haystack the size of Texas.
The alternative is to look for outside assistance. There are three levels of third-party help to get started: simple, advanced, and complex.
The simple approach is an app-based approach like the one offered by Castlingo. Castlingo allows a 77-second recording and powers the work to get it posted and available.
The advanced approach requires a simple RSS feed and can cost as little as $30-$50 per month. Vendors like XAPPmedia host the content, manage the ever-changing platform environment, and provide engagement analytics.
The complex approach is a build like a native app. From concept to scope to build, there are a growing number of developers who specialize on voice apps. You may already be working with one and not even know it. See the list from Amazon here.
“The list of people who market third-party capabilities is very long,” cautions Kinsella. “The list of skilled practitioners is very short.”
Smart speakers and voice assistants are on an aggressive adoption curve, and companies with stellar lineage are leading the charge. That means that 2019 is a great year for experimentation and planning. Think through the list of monetization strategies shown above or concept new ones that fit your brand. While there is money to be made now, it won’t be easy. It requires a plan and, most likely, a development partner.
“If there is a way to insert yourself into the conversation and offer a value, do it,” says Lacy.
James Arnold is the chief digital officer for Rooster Strategic Solutions, a consultancy firm serving companies in food and agriculture. James has worked in the B2B media sector for 20+ years, most recently as VP of digital for Farm Journal. You can contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org.