A Period of Reckoning: Overheard at Digiday’s Publishing Summit

Posted by

Let’s eavesdrop on the Digiday Publishing Summit held in March of this year in Colorado….

“Streams of revenue are too many and too thin.” “How do I create ads that my users actually want to engage with?” “We’re trying to find another revenue stream because this isn’t working well.”

At this year’s summit, you couldn’t miss the sound of publishers searching for answers. Traffic’s harder to find. Revenues are too. The first line of a post-event report published by Digiday reads:

“Publishers are entering a period of reckoning.”

If you’re with a digital publishing entity and didn’t make it to the event, I reckon you’ll want to know more about what came out of three days of discussion regarding how to diversify traffic sources and realize revenues outside of advertising.

First: Facebook folly.

digiday summit (1)

The report did not tap dance around issues related to that little social media network called Facebook. In fact, its authors wrote:

“After years of being jerked around by Facebook’s strategy changes…” “Weaning off of Facebook isn’t easy.” “Publishers seem wider-eyed than ever in their resolve to not repeat their Facebook addiction to grow their direct traffic…”

More takeaways:

  • 72% of publishers in attendance claim Facebook’s recent algorithm changes are not good for publishers in the long run.
  • Traffic from Facebook has declined.
  • Being on other platforms is necessary.
  • Still, because of its huge audience, Facebook can’t be ignored.

Second: “Woe” goes subscription seekers.

A couple of prominent publishers led discussions about pursuing subscription or membership models as an alternative to depending on ad revenues.

And the takeaways:

  • 89% believe the pivot to subscription will fail for most publishers.
  • Creating a viable subscription business is a long, slow process requiring commitment and serious investments.

Third: Video’s vexing publishers.

native video suspense (1)

As you must have gathered by now, the Digital report didn’t sugarcoat the challenges. A brief review of the “confusing” video landscape began by claiming many publishers are failing in their attempts to pivot to video.

It says many are trying to crack an incredibly fragmented distribution landscape.

Reality checks on the issue included:

  • Twitter has become one of the top three sources of video ad revenue for Billboardand The Hollywood Reporter.
  • Your website is still the best place to monetize with pre-roll inventory.
  • Social platforms continue to push prices down.
  • Publishers must be careful when choosing video syndication portals.

Fourth: UX needs fixing.

“Most sites are built maximizing ad revenue instead of pleasing users,” the report claimed.

And:

  • 93% agree there is a user experience crisis in digital media

Ouch.

The publishers at the event talked abut how sites are slowed by clunky ads, third-party vendors, autoplay video and ineffective personalization systems.

More reality checks:

  • Several publishers believe reducing the volume of ads is a good idea, but feared the effects would be hard to measure.
  • They also claimed doing so would be hard to sell management and could put them out of work.

What do the Digiday Moguls have to say?

The report concludes with Digiday Moguls (an exclusive, C-level only gathering of decisions makers in media, marketing and technology) grappling with the fickleness of digital platforms. You can take in many of their unabashed opinions here.

One voice there said, “All of these platforms are fickle. What might help you this quarter will screw you the next quarter.”

Final notes from the report:

  • Publishers seeking real ROI need to be mindful to focus on business areas—subscriptions, commerce and/or content licensing—that can drive more than just incremental dollars.
  • Publishers agree they need to demand more from platforms, whether through direct “carriage fees,” better ad monetization, or both.

One thing is clear—based on the challenges uncovered at the event, engagement and more strategic monetization is the answer.

Native is emerging as possible a solution in the wake of social challenges, and is one of the only channels still growing. This year, the industry will allocate $32.90 billion to native digital display placements, up 31.0% over 2017, according to eMarketer.

Ultimately, the report published about the Digiday Publishing Summit didn’t offer a lot of concrete answers, but explored some very good questions. Publishers aren’t giving up—all eyes are on them as marketers, agencies, publishers and technology platforms continue to navigate the new online landscape.