Report Finds Publishing Industry Tech Spending Aimed at Bringing Audiences Back Home
Publishing Executive has released the results of its second annual survey on which technologies publishers plan to buy, the objectives behind their investments, and which technologies they expect to drive the most revenue. To enable publishers to see where and why their peers are making technology investments, survey results and analysis have been compiled into the special report The Top Technologies Publishers Will Buy in 2018.
Tech Helps Publishers Take Back Control
Too often, technology investments are driven by industry fads, whether that was platform publishing or video. But blindly following tech-fashions is not a charge that can be pinned on any of the respondents to 2018’s Technology Plan to Purchase Survey. There’s no bandwagon-jumping evident this year; the data indicates a broad range of technology investment plans.
Than being said, there is a common thread running through technology spending plans: A strong desire to regain control of audience relationships.
Tired of marching to the ever-changing tune played by the social networks – particularly Facebook – publishers everywhere are tackling the challenges of bringing people back to their own properties.
Writing last month from the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, CJR's chief digital writer Mathew Ingram reported one attendee telling him the Facebook-era is over, believing that publishers are “working on ways to do an end run around the giant platform and connect directly with users.”
Focusing on revenues founded on quality content targeted to catch and hold the attention of a well-defined audience seems like a good starting point. And of the top-10 technologies prioritized by survey respondents, eight can be seen as supporting the development of direct, monetizable, audience relationships; all eight were listed as tech priorities for more than 20% of survey respondents.
Tapping the Subscription Economy
Taken together, this year’s top-10 technology targets could be mistaken for the shopping list of a subscription-based start-up.
Smart publishers know that the better the first-party data they hold, the stronger their targeted display and marketing services pitch will be. But increasingly, audience data is also about replacing unpredictable advertising revenues with recurring reader revenues.
Eyeing paid-content moves by publishers of all stripes, from the New York Times to Wired and Vanity Fair, better data and better data insight is a big step in establishing an alternative to ad revenues under pressure from the duopoly, ad blocking, and marketers’ mistrust.
Setting the tone, audience analytics topped the priorities revealed in the Top Tech of 2018 report. Over a third of survey respondents plan to invest in tools that will help them track, visualize and manage audience behaviours. But publishers know that having that data, even data insights, is not enough. Other spending intentions point at plans to action audience insight and supercharge audience acquisition and engagement.
Starting with content, as every publisher always should, content analytics and content management solutions feature prominently in the top 10. Publishers need to know what content works best and have the tools in place to get it out to their audiences, targeted to the right places at the right times.
Knowing what’s working in content isn’t much good without an audience and audience acquisition features even higher up our 2018 spending list. The new primacy of search traffic has meant the nuts and bolts of SEO/SEM, prioritized by 28% of respondents, are back as a key channel for content discovery and audience acquisition.
And although hopes for social media are not what they were – and which ranked number 1 last year -- no one is quite ready to give up on social reach completely. Social media solutions, also scoring 28%, are still a target, especially those that will help pull audiences out of the networks and back to owned properties.
Closing the loop, with readers back on home turf, audience engagement is crucial and solutions to keep people on the page - commenting, polls and quizzes, and social widgets – are joint second on the list with SEO and social media spending.
And if our top-10 really is the technology blueprint for a reader-funded start-up, the last piece of the tech stack would be the revenue piece. Not to disappoint, 22% of respondents put paywalls and subscription solutions on their priority lists, underlining the audience-centric intentions of The Top Technologies Publishers Will Buy in 2018.
Returning to First Principles
Amidst the wreckage of the platform-publishing dream, publishers are making technology investments that will help them get back to first principles: Delivering quality content that audiences value and that can be monetized through advertising or, increasingly, paywalls, subscriptions, and memberships.
This year’s audience-first spending focus spotlights industry wide ambitions to develop better reader relationships. Rather than endlessly chasing scale on other people’s platforms, publishers want to understand, engage and grow the audiences they have.
Audience segmentation can deliver improvements in ad targeting and lead-generation and improved content performance, keeping more readers for longer, supports advertising and sponsorship income. But the extra driver in 2018’s investment plans for audience-development tech is seeing the future in revenue direct from readers; insight and engagement tools paired with powerful data management capabilities to power paywalls and drive subscription sales efforts.
As one of this year’s survey explained: “It's not about just growth anymore, it's about further monetizing the existing subscriber base and audience we have.”
Related story: The Top Technologies Publishers Will Buy in 2018
Peter Houston runs Flipping Pages Media, an independent consultancy and training firm, helping publishers build multi-platform success. He has run Guardian Masterclasses, spoken at Google’s ThinkPublishing and was formerly Editor-at-large for The Media Briefing. He now co-hosts the Media Voices Podcast, delivering a weekly take on the media news and guest interviews with senior players at a leading media organizations, from Facebook to Nieman Lab, The Economist to CNN.