Is the digital dream over for publishers? This week news out of BuzzFeed, VICE and Mashable indicated that might be so, and the rhetoric from media analysts suggested a mass awakening for those who hoped digital advertising alone could be the basis for a media business.
The race between Google and Facebook to see which can make itself least popular among content publishers has taken another turn, with Mark Zuckerberg’s company taking a decisive lead. Over the past week publishers in six countries – Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia – have seen their traffic from Facebook fall by up to two thirds as a result of an ongoing test in how publisher content appears within the social network.
In an excellent Medium post flagging up the extent of the change Filip Struhárik, editor and social media manager for Slovakian publisher Dennik N, notes that (emphasis mine):
“In main newsfeeds are now just friend and sponsored posts. Yes, you log into Facebook and you can see only posts from your friends and ads. You have to click on Explore Feed to see posts from pages you follow. If you want your Facebook page posts to be seen in old newsfeed, you have to pay.”
A Facebook spokesperson has indicated
Most digital media businesses are slaves to the ‘hit’ – the number of clicks on or views of a particular page. And that’s a real shame, because the hit was never a great measure of success for an individual piece of content, and has only become less so as social distribution skews publishing priorities towards creating content designed to go ‘viral’.
Worse still, as a result of a focus on the hit that has been around since the birth of the banner ad back in 1994, ads are mostly sold on a CPM (click per thousand) basis. When you sell in thousands of impressions, all you care about is how many thousands you have. As a result, in some quarters, ‘hits’ has become a damning acronym for ‘How Idiots Track Success.’
The truth is, the hit is a blunt instrument for attracting advertisers. It’s like having a thousand people come to your wedding, but you don’t know any of them, they are unlikely to
By now, you have probably heard about Improbable, the virtual simulation start-up that raised $502m from Japan’s SoftBank – but what you might not have considered is how its technology could be of interest to your business.
Founded in 2012 by a pair of Cambridge University computer science graduates, Improbable is now valued at more than $1bn thanks to the investment by SoftBank, which represents the largest-ever venture financing round for a private British company.
The business employs 170 computer scientists, engineers and designers who are all attempting to recreate the most detailed version possible of the real world in digital form.
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has launched a new website to help combat fake news.
The crowd-funded Wikitribune aims to be a “new kind of news platform” that will take the fight to the producers and facilitators of fake news by “bringing journalists and a community of volunteers together”.
Ten journalists will be hired to produce “professional, standards-based journalism that incorporates the radical idea from the world of Wiki – that a community of volunteers can, and will, reliably protect and improve articles”.
Viagogo’s decision this week to snub the culture committee’s hearing into secondary ticketing was misguided and likely to imperil efforts at self-regulation.
The secondary ticketing market, which includes online marketplace sites like Viagogo and GetMeIn!, is worth an estimated $8bn a year.
While useful to genuine fans, these sites also make it very easy for touts to sell tickets at hugely inflated prices – and that, in part, is one of reasons why the committee was keen to take a look at the industry.
Ad blocking was labelled as an existential threat to ad-supported digital content by some (including us on occasion), but its anticipated growth has failed to materialise and digital publishers are breathing a sigh of relief.
According to the Internet Advertising Bureau UK, the proportion of British adults using ad blocking software online in February was 22.1%.
The figure is less than half-a-percent more than in the same month last year and shows growth almost grinding to a halt. In February 2016, year-on-year growth of those using ad blockers stood at around six percent.
Last year was a busy 12 months in terms of tech business manoeuvring. The big moves, however, were takeovers, mergers, launches and collapses – there didn’t seem to be that many public offerings.
Much of the movement in 2016 was established businesses buying content firms or platforms that provided a link to sizeable audience. Verizon bought Yahoo for $4.8bn, Microsoft paid $26bn for LinkedIn, and we also looked at telco convergence generally. Yet, other than flagging up the expected IPO of Snapchat, Tech IPOs didn’t seem to impact the media world in 2016 to such a degree.
Now, thanks to a study from PwC, the reasons for that have become somewhat clearer – as 2016 marked the decade’s low point for global tech IPOs.
By anyone’s standards 2016 has been a peculiar year. But, at Facebook HQ, the last 12 months has been largely business as usual. Of course, business as usual for the social networking giant can have a huge and lasting impact on countless other media businesses and (as we’ll see later) on billions of people across the globe.
The media industry is still too white.
Back in 2001, Greg Dyke said that the BBC was ‘hideously white’ . That was fifteen years ago and was indicative of our industry at that time.
The issue of race and gender diversity in the workplace is not a new one, yet it is still one that needs to be discussed because little is changing and it’s not changing quickly enough.
Earlier this year, the overall value of the UK games market ‘soared’ past £4.1bn for the first time – so we are overdue a look at how publishers and developers achieve growth in the face of a prosperous secondary games market.
For the uninitiated, the secondary market covers the resale of second-hand games and trade-in (often for store credit). Retailers including Amazon, GAME, and HMV re-sell and, historically, this has been considered to the detriment of developers and publishers.
With Snapchat valued at as much as $35bn ahead of its forthcoming IPO, now seems like as good a time as any to look into the chat app’s explosion, and what it means for media businesses.
Over the last few months, I’ve spoken to dozens of senior digital executives, not just those in commercial and editorial roles, but also those in disciplines like social media strategy and audience development. Two things have become apparent from those conversations: firstly, chat apps are becoming an increasingly important part of online publishing strategies; secondly, no one really knows what to do with them, or how it’s going to play out.
Last Thursday’s annual BSME awards ceremony was a chance for magazine editors to get together and celebrate their successes – as well as commiserate with others who have not been so lucky.
At the moment, there is an increasing number of good news stories coming out of the magazine world. Yes, there are notable failures – or ‘corrections to the market’, as economists would put it – including the closure of InStyle, etc; but – whisper it – the industry is holding up.
In a previous post, we looked at the broad role the media played in Donald Trump’s stunning electoral victory last week. Here, I want to look in a little bit more detail at one significant aspect – social media. Or, to put it more bluntly, we’re going to look at how Donald Trump bypassed the mainstream media and used Facebook and Twitter to help win the election.
Data from EzyInsights, an organisation that normally helps news publishers understand how stories play across social media, shows that in the run up to the election earlier this month Trump was often gaining three times more Facebook engagement – likes, reactions, shares, comments – as Clinton.
Across the TMT sector, convergence is back in a big way. The early 2000s were packed with mega-mergers like AOL and Time Warner, and the cross-market consolidation that saw the emergence of integrated offerings like Virgin Media.
Things quietened down after the financial crisis, but the last couple of years have seen a raft of big telecoms providers making moves back into the media.
From BT’s acquisition of Champions League and Premiership rights, to Verizon’s recent acquisitions of both AOL and Yahoo!, and now AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, telecoms companies can’t get enough content right now.
There was a time, not long ago, when owning a BlackBerry was the mark of a serious professional – someone who was always on, always reachable – well, not any more…
As other firms accelerated their development of business-friendly smartphones, BlackBerry stood still. So it will have come as little surprise to anyone who has followed its fortunes that the ailing technology company intends to no longer make handsets and instead focus on developing software.
So Verizon has been at it again: bagging a former digital behemoth for a fraction of its peak market value in the hope that some of the old magic remains.
To put that in perspective, Microsoft offered $45bn for the business in 2008, but was turned down by the Yahoo’s then management on the basis that the business was worth much more. Way to go, as they say in Silicon Valley.
A colleague was recently sharing a cab with a senior sales director working for a traditional broadcaster and was amazed he had no idea of what affiliate marketing was.
It’s perhaps not as uncommon as my colleague might have thought, and many of our readers might be in a similar position. So, to spread a little light, here’s a simple explanation (those of you in the Affiliate Marketing world, turn away now!):
Last week, Martin wrote about how necessary content could make it simpler for B2B media firms to carve out a significant piece of the digital landscape for themselves.
The problem for a lot of content businesses, particularly consumer-facing ones, is that despite the merits of what they produce, it’s not essential for their readers.
It seems barely possible, but it’s less than a decade since Amazon boss Jeff Bezos ordered his lieutenants to build the world’s first mass-market e-reader. The original Kindle was introduced to the public in 2007 and with it came the fear that its development marked the beginning of the end for printed books.
In the nine years since its launch, Kindle has been through eight generations, an LCD version has launched, along with various adaptors and applications that allow Amazon’s content to run on the slew of other platforms and technologies than have also come to market in this time.
Yet despite the digital explosion that has taken place, despite the consumer’s readiness to ditch old technology for new (honestly, when was the last time you read a printed newspaper?), and despite 2007’s fear for the future of the book, the situation we currently find ourselves in isn’t the one book-lovers feared.
The long-term viability of digital publications that rely on scaling audience has been called into question in the last few months. Digital advertising has continued to grow, but increasingly the idea of a business model focused on generating a massive readership or viewership is becoming outmoded by the fluctuating demands of advertisers.
There’s also a prevailing feeling in the media industry that there’s too much content chasing too little advertising cash. This doesn’t necessarily mean that cutting back on both content and audience size will be beneficial, just that a new way looking at the quality of content and its ‘appropriateness’ to the audience is taking hold.
With this new approach come a requirement for new skills, and increasingly digital media businesses are looking to hire heads of Audience Development to their senior management teams.
Each week I receive roughly 150 marketing emails. The majority get deleted without any consideration of the content, but last week two emails caught my eye and caused me to investigate further. Why? Believe it or not, they stood out from the rest because they used emojis in the subject line.
For the uninitiated, emojis are little graphics that are commonly used in text messages but are increasingly moving into other forms of communication. The two that caught my attention were an image of a car to start the subject line of an email about car finance and, similarly, a party image in a service upgrade message from one of my tech providers.
Well, so far, you might think, so boring; but there is a point to all this: according to a recent survey Brits are 63% more likely to open an email with an emoji accompanying the subject line.
Sometimes the pace of change in publishing can be staggering. It seems not a month goes by without the arrival of a technology or platform that causes permanent disruption to how and where content is presented to end-users and forces executives to (again) fundamentally rethink their digital model.
The other week we met with a senior figure at a major international online publisher to discuss the changing nature of their business. He flagged up the biggest issue almost immediately:
‘The emphasis,’ he said, ‘has changed from driving traffic to our sites to taking our content out to where people are. That requires quite a change of mindset within the business.’
Today marks eight years since MTA opened its doors to an eager media market. Although, as it turned out, the media market in 2008 was not that eager: within weeks, the global economic collapse had gathered pace and there was precious little investment in the industry. Timing has always been my strong point.
Nonetheless, we landed two clients in the first couple of months. The first client, one of the UK’s largest consumer publishers, remains a client today. The second – an international news and data business – led to a multi-year project which saw us recruiting for bureaux around the world (Russia, China, Europe and the US). Strong partnerships like this have been our mainstay ever since.
The other week I found myself in a meeting with the CEO of a niche B2B publisher, and a senior member of his digital product team. The CEO had spent much of the previous hour bemoaning his declining print revenues, as well as outlining an advertising-driven attempt to go digital that, it’s fair to say, has experienced some pitfalls.
The digital executive (who was new and therefore not involved in the aforementioned digital transition) then began outlining, very articulately, proposals to create a high-value, subscription-driven online service out of the data published every issue in the back of the magazine. The sort of service that, were they to get it right, would generate millions in recurring, secure subscription revenue every year. His CEO interrupted him by slapping down a page of the magazine, showing an ageing executive in a suit, and declaiming “but most of our audience looks like this”.
2016 marks twenty years since I became a headhunter. While that makes me feel incredibly old, it has been a fascinating time to be an observer of the media landscape across the UK and beyond.
When I first started, the internet existed, but was a hard-to-use and limited resource with dial-up access. Email also existed, but not in my office (we relied on faxes). Things were changing, yes; but no-one had really grasped the magnitude of what was about to happen.
If you really want to know how much the media world has changed in the intervening years, imagine saying this back in 1996:
It’s hard to believe that Amazon was founded twenty-one years ago. Since their establishment in 1994, they have diversified into innumerable categories; but it is their impact on book publishing that is interesting to us. Amazon has disrupted the landscape that held solid for many years, and they haven’t done it gently.
Last year, Keith Gessan wrote in Vanity Fair that “all the publishers feel bullied by Amazon, and Amazon, in turn, feels misunderstood.” The implication that Amazon is the unwitting playground bully doesn’t, unfortunately, distract from the fact that they used their size and their far reaching power to the detriment of others by undercutting prices.
This strategy of Amazon’s, which basically cuts out the ‘middle man’ that is the traditional retailer, is having a hugely negative impact on the industry. Last year, while Amazon was busy falling out with Hachette, Steve Dent of Engadget UK wrote that “Amazon grinds suppliers to keep its competitive edge and publishers are no exception.” Amazon argues that it is looking out for the ‘little guy’ by saying that “we will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices”, but these protests seem hollow.
Negotiations on prices for e-books have largely failed, and have led to accusations that the company is using that figleaf to cover up its continuing efforts to under-price print books. Alexander Alter of the New York Times reported recently that the “paperback editions of some popular titles, like “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, [were] several dollars cheaper than their digital counterparts.”
Of course, some of the responsibility for this has to be shared with the publishers themselves. Their collective unhappiness about online pricing is reminiscent of the Net Book Agreement dispute from the 1990’s, just as Amazon drew its first breath. And it is arguable that Amazon deserves a larger share of the e-book market because it is chiefly responsible for creating it in the first place with the invention of the Kindle.
As Amazon does not report their sales figures, it is difficult to gather a consensus on just how much e-books are thriving in monetary terms. We do know though, that the e-book market is prosperous and the traditional publisher only has around a third of the market share.
More worrying for publishers – and retailers – is Amazon’s share of the print market, and its pricing policy in that area. Amazon’s second-hand market, in particular, is troublesome; advertised on the same page as new editions, publishers do not get a penny from the sale of used books. One third of a monetisable e-book market is much better than three-quarters of a non-paying second-hand print market.
So perhaps patience with the playground bully is – after all – the best strategy. Despite difficulties arising from the Apple price-fixing case, publishers should focus on getting a better deal from Amazon on the electronic market, and seek to curb their prominence as a print reseller.
Web users find online advertising annoying, intrusive, often irrelevant, and a drag on browser speed. For those that go online using a mobile, there are also concerns over stealth data consumption and privacy.
It’s for these reasons, according to a recent YouGov survey, that 15% of internet users currently use ad-blocking software and 22% have at one time or another downloaded
In 2013, communications strategist Zan McCulloch-Lussier wrote about the overwhelming torrent of content that consumers face.
In the article for charity leaders, published in NTEN Change, he wrote: “48 hours of new video on YouTube. 684,000 pieces of content shared on Facebook. 100,000 tweets. This is just a sample of what happens every minute of every day on social media. Overwhelmed yet? The people you’re trying to talk to certainly are.”
Stats vary: but the challenge for brands to be heard amidst such noise is immense. McColloch-Lussier argues the only way forward is to curate content – on behalf of the audience – so you are seen as a trusted source of information. There is, in his view, no point in shouting louder. The only way to be heard is to become so trusted that your voice can be heard in a whisper.
Well, love them or hate them, they are all titles that have bucked the wider media trend and maintained strong brands and readerships over the last few years. They have become trusted voices by delivering appropriate content in the way their audience demands – across print, digital, social and video media.
So what can content marketers learn from their success?