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.
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