Danny Wong

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The future of publishing is hotly debated. The advent of the internet and mobile technology has greatly revolutionized a formerly traditional industry, giving it new form and new life. Ten years ago, few experts could have accurately predicted what the digital age would have done to publishing.

But in order to avoid publishers blindly attempting to preempt the future, it is worth critically asking: What will (and should) happen in order for publishers to be successful, long-term?

Of course, before we can move forward, we need to identify the biggest issues the industry faces and then take bold steps towards fixing those problems.

Digital publishing is a mess

Ad revenues are plummeting

First, the publishing industry faces a quality and a quantity issue. CTRs for display ads are at an all-time low and more content is created than we actually need.

Due to this, many publishers now generate less revenue per visitor than they used to — and they’re desperate.

Entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen describes the situation this way,

[News businesses] need to get out of the “race to bottom” dynamic of bad content, bad advertisers, and bad ads. Quality journalism businesses need to either take responsibility for their own high-quality advertisers and ads, or work with partners who do. There is no excuse for crappy network-served teeth whitening come-ons and one weird trick ads served against high quality content. Disastrous.

Starving publishers, in a crunch to grow ad sales, foolishly accept any and every deal that comes their way, as long as it means they could earn more money per pageview. But that mindset is self-defeating. As we continue to democratize content through blogging and conversational platforms (i.e. forums and social media), many publishers will soon struggle to make pennies per thousand impressions.

In order to overcome its quality issue, digital publishing needs to work closely with brands and businesses to develop content and creatives that will be useful — not disruptive — for audiences (think: paid social endorsements, related content promotions and sponsored series too). Separation of church-and-state, in the advertiser-and-publisher sense, no longer makes sense. Success hinges on the ability of both parties to conservatively choose their relationships with the overarching goal of providing meaningful experiences for consumers, readers.

To solve for quantity, content creators ought to remember that publishing is not a spray and pray game and that the winners won’t necessarily be the ones who publish the most content in the shortest amount of time. In fact, hiring more writers and adding more content to an already supersaturated market will only increase costs and will not help you substantially increase market share.

Though, readers today are still easily baited by a fun listicle, they are far more discerning than ever about what they spend their time on, which publications they trust, and how they consume content. Therefore, digital publishers must work hard to earn more reader trust, engage them and adapt to ever-changing media consumption habits.

Publishing tech is either antiquated or is light-years ahead of its time

In publishing, many companies have been stubborn in their ways, using clunky, limiting legacy technology and practices that allowed the competition to leapfrog ahead. The early innovators have also had their fair share of issues since, historically, select advances in publishing have evolved too fast for their current time and were costly to implement, with those costs unfairly trickling down to audiences.

Ideally, businesses would build simple tools publishers could adopt, which would continue to keep pace with the evolving media landscape, leaving publishers to only ever have to worry about crafting quality content. Instead, publishers have taken it upon themselves to optimize for mobile browsing, implement unique advertising channels, and tackle social media.

Also, what most publishers think they know about the web is wrong. The coveted pageview is no longer the sole success metric for publishers — it’s all about engagement. Of course, the greatest efficiency will come when platforms help publishers discover and understand all of this in a manner that is uniform within the industry.

Unpredictable traffic sources

Though it has become easier than ever to generate ungodly amounts of visits, without a moment’s notice, your main source of traffic may consciously aim to send less and less traffic your way.

For the largest viral sites across the web, it has been a bumpy race to the top and, for some, a quick spiral downwards. Facebook has not been kind to all publishers and Google is often portrayed as the villain that first giveth, then taketh away.

As well, readers are indeed a fickle bunch. They are quick to abandon sites they once loved for the newest, more entertaining thing. More than ever, publishers are working hard to engage their audience through multiple channels, limiting heavy reliance on single-traffic-source strategies and ensuring they generate a captive and returning audience through mediums such as email.

What else can publishers and marketers do better? Sound off in the comments below! 

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  • you bring an excellent point on sources, which i think is the major issue on today’s content/publishing challenges, its rapidly getting centralized in some networks and all the discovery is virtually gone. So what to do decentralize

    • Interesting thoughts! Thanks for the comment :)

  • Rick Stoneking Sr

    Another thing to consider, is software based content marketers. Many companies are using software programs to access and curate web content, and even to answer consumer questions.

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