Thoughts Archives - THE BRYAN DAVIS

Monetizing Publisher Content While Retaining Readers

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It’s Not An Oxymoron

Now that everyone is a publisher, getting content to readers is more competitive than a Black Friday slow-cooker sale. Worse yet, many writers are going hungry with the increasing output and decreasing advertising CPMs. Legacy brands and new publishers are looking at Ad Blockers and collectively mumbling “you can’t draw blood from a stone.” With the (good ole) early days now behind us, many publishers are looking into new monetization opportunities for publisher content to allow for writers and readers to strike up a new relationship where the customer (consumer/audience) is always right — crappy ads make for crappy content.

Display’s Slow Demise

Digital readers today are savvy, and they know what they like. Banner ads in their death knell have gone from an easy-to-ignore nuisance and become that overly-tall guy at the concert who blocks your view of the good stuff. Additionally, on mobile devices, consumers are less likely to return to a site if part of their pursuit includes a virtual game of Operation, requiring a tweezer finger to hit a tiny “x” to eliminate an overlay. And why should most publishers even bother? Banner blindness is no longer an epidemic; it’s a condition that is jumping species and spreading to new platforms. At one point, banner ads had a click-through-rate in the double digits. Today, the average display CTR is .06%. As the performance has shrunk, the ad sizes and executions have grown bigger and more intrusive, leaving some readers with more ads than content. As soon as a reader gets a bad taste or a slow page load, they are on to the next link. So, how can publishers maintain their operations, cover their costs, and still generate revenue with their content? The easiest answer is diversification, not only in the content but also the execution of the ads themselves

Native To Save The Day

For the past couple years, native advertising has been a hot-button topic of conversation for digital. Only more recently has the content world seen those “recommended stories” units develop into a billion-dollar empire. The growth of native is very much tied to the demise of other advertising units, particularly display. Why, many ask, is native so lucrative? The answer is in the execution and its connection to the content it is supporting. When readers started to see extensions of their reading experience in the ad units of recommended stories, publishers crossed a barrier and started to convey value through paid-placements. Now, let’s not confuse true content with some of the more lackluster placements some companies encourage. However, the contextual recommendation algorithms powering many of these tools are getting better are understanding what a reader is interested in before serving up something else “you may be interested in.” With mobile offering little love to most ad executions, the native ad connection to content is a more immediate answer to some publishers looking for new ways to monetize good content.

New Markets

In addition to new executions, many publishers are turning to new markets to find untapped advertising potential. Internet penetration in the Asia-Pacific region is growing. These markets are uncontested battlegrounds for new readers, so many publishers are scrambling to find on-the-ground talent. In the next year, we should expect to see legacy publishers pivot and add overseas operations to attract new audiences that international advertisers do not yet have access to. Additionally, because many of these new Internet users are mobile-centric, the connection between fans and content is more engaged at the outset. The greater access to smartphone usage in the APAC region, the more opportunities for online news consumption.

Breaking Through The Paywalls

Many publishers remember the day the Grey Lady changed the world and erected their paywall. And, much to the dismay of naysayers, the world did not end. In fact, the digital subscriber base has grown to 1 million. In that growth, the binary nature of the paywall (you’re in or you’re out) has changed a fair bit. “Hard” and “soft” paywall models have matured to find new ways to convey value on both sides of the content exchange. Yes, the less porous model of the WSJ can lead to more up front dollars. But publishers can leverage microtransactions — turning off your ad-blocker, for example — to give a reader the content they want while allowing for some monetization to take place. Other value can come through in short video pre-roll, registrations, or the ever-valuable newsletter. Savvy publishers are already coming up new executions to derive value today while putting consumers into a sales funnel for a subscription in the near future.

E-Commerce and Comtent

New content distribution models have offered new ways for content marketers to maintain revenue streams, and some networks have even looked to introducing the revenue connection into the content itself. While the idea of curating “shopping lists” for readers is not new, what is promising is the ease of setting up the shopping cart. With partners like Skimlinks among others, the content creates a storefront for affiliate sales. Many publishers are looking for ways to bridge the gap between good content and the cash register. Gawker was one of the biggest players to scale this strategy out with its tech sites, and affiliate sales represent a very nice chunk of change that fits naturally in their content feed. For some, reviews and gift guides are already slots in the editorial calendar. But without a way to easily track affiliate link sales, most pubs lose out on their cut. Enter Skimlinks. For a percentage, they will do the heavy lifting of setting up a store front and integrating voluminous catalogues of stuff to write about (and eventually sell). While this model could incentivize coverage of high-value products, the publisher must be transparent about the blurry line between content and commerce so as to avoid a revolt by readers.

Monetizing For the Future

As the approach of the Apple ad apocalypse comes to fruition, more publishers are going to look to new outlets for monetization. Fortunately, with so many distribution points to the funnel, trial and error can be expeditious for teams that follow consumption cues from their readers. Good content will continue to be the primary currency of the Internet; now it’s up to forward-thinking teams to set their exchange rates.

Bryan Tweets About Food, Triathlons, and Publishing at @thebryandavis

Moth StorySLAM New Orleans: Pride

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In July, WWNO New Orleans hosted its monthly gathering of the Moth StorySLAM storytelling series. The topic of the night was “Pride.” I shared a story about boyhood pride, and the judges were kind enough to select it as the winner of the StorySLAM. Some friends wanted to know what I shared, so I typed up a version of what I shared.

Photo courtesy of atmtx

Many of life’s great stories of pride are the result of women. Helen Of Troy, Delilah of Samson’s hair, and this story, too, which involves Kerry of Sleep Away Camp.

I had been vying for the attention of Kerry for over two weeks. But I had competition: Kevin. Kevin had outdone me earlier in the term at the camp talent show. I thought I was a lock with my ukulele rendition of You Are My Sunshine. Kevin scored major swoon points with his acoustic guitar performance of Green Day’s Time of your Life. (For the record, ladies love ukuleles, but they need to be older than 15 to appreciate the adorable irony.)

All was not lost. Camp date night was coming up, and it was a movie outing to see X-Men. The plan was this: Regale her with my immense knowledge of mutants. Between whisperings about the adamantium metal fused to Wolverine’s skeleton, I was going to pull the old yaaaaawn and arm swoop. Very Clark Gable, I know.

The love trap was set, and I was going to ask Kerry to be my date the day before the outing at the pool social. Being from Florida, I had a great base tan to show off. If ever I was going to outdo Kevin, this was it.

Things are going well, swimmingly you could say. Kerry and her friends are sitting at the edge of the pool,  and I’m treading water like a Navy seal, casually chatting up the movie night. Then Kevin walks up and declares, “I’m going to dive off the jumping board. You should watch.” Before I knew what was happening, I proclaimed, “Good, I was going that way already.”

So it’s Kevin, me, and my buddy Justin queued up at the dive platform. Kevin climbs the ladder and gets on the six foot board. With a rather obnoxious nonchalance, he bounces, leaps, and… performs a beautiful somersault. He plunges through the water with a slight ripple. The girls make more of a disturbance with their applause. Turns out, Kevin had taken dive lessons; something he knew, but I didn’t.

It’s my turn now, and I start climbing the stairs. But instead of getting off at the six foot board, I keep climbing to the twenty foot board. As I’m going up, Justin calls from below, “Hey man, you think you oughta be doing that?” “Dude,” I shout down, “I took diving lessons.” That’s another story for another time, but the denouement is: nope, no diving lessons. Music theory lessons: yep. Diving lessons: nah ah.

But I lived five minutes from the beach, and we had a pool in my backyard. So with the confidence of Prince Namor I climb to the high dive. I reach the top, and I’m having a bit of difficulty breathing. Is it just me, or is the air a bit thinner up here? Just as I’m about to hyperventilate, I look down at the pool and see a bikini-clad speck smiling up at me. It’s go time. I back up, I run, I hop, I bounce, and… I slip. It’s not Greg Louganis bad, but it’s enough of a slip that instead of jumping up in the air I jump out.

With this awkward leap, not only did I have the force of gravity pulling me toward the pool, I had the thrust of my idiocy pushing me faster. I have about a second of hang time, but it’s just long enough for me to have a Wil-E-Coyote moment: I’m going off the cliff with the ACME TNT box but I manage to draw up a sign that says “Oh No.”

BAM! The water supines me, and I single-handedly prove the cohesive properties of water. I linger for a brief moment on the surface, and then I submerge. As I’m sinking, every neuron on the front of my body is firing in pain. But I start to feel a chill on my backside. With the cool undercurrent of the pool freely flowing over my bottom, I realize my swim trunks are around my ankles.

At this point, I could have decided never to surface, and most people would think, “Yep, makes sense.” But my desire to live just barely outweighed my desire to die. With one hand pulling me top side and the other hand pulling my bottoms up, I breach the water—not like the aquatic prince I set out to emulate but rather like a bloated fish carcass.

“Are you ok?,” I hear from the side of the pool. It was Kerry. Around her comes a lifeguard, who plucks me out of the water and sets me on the side of the pool. I am still struggling to breathe, but I am also struggling to not throw up. In the calamity of impact, my crotch had broken my fall, and my fall had broken my crotch. After confirming I was going to make it, Kerry returned to her friends. I hobbled over to the snack bar and asked for the biggest bag of ice I could get. So there I sat, the rest of the afternoon, icing my crotch as Kevin and Kerry played chicken fight. She nearly lost her top; I felt nothing.

Yes, Kevin did ask Kerry to X-Men, and while we all went “together,” I limped to a separate seat when their row ran out of room. In the dark movie theater, I watched several rows back as Kevin pulled the “Yawn move.” I squirmed in my seat, not only because I still could not sit right, but because that should have been me. That was my move.

Standing now, not on the 20 foot high dive but on the solid ground of wisdom, I can tell you this:

Pride comes before a fall, and if you’re lucky, you’ll land on your back.