Paul Jackson
Marketing Initiative

Navigating through the chaos - Digital Publishing after Covid19

An insight into the trends, opportunities and resilience of the Publishing Industry.

The business world is a very different place compared to just six months ago. Perhaps no more so than in publishing, where we’ve seen the distribution and printing of newspapers, magazines and books all but stop in some markets, while at the same time, the audience for news, entertainment – and let’s face it, escapism – has exploded.

Surge in viewership & its challenges

In many media industries, the digital channel has become the most important (if not only) means of reaching your consumers, and firms have seen record growth in readership and traffic. In fact, Akamai reported a global traffic increase of 30% on its network for the month of March. In publishing, in particular, readership is booming. Globally, leading publishing houses are seeing record growth in digital subscriptions – while also adapting quickly to offer Covid-19 coverage for free. At the same time, many publishers that rely on advertising revenue are feeling the squeeze as major firms in travel, retail, auto, and entertainment slash their ad spend.

At least the ad market has started to show signs of recovery in the past month: publishers are reporting new advertisers entering the market (taking advantage of record low CPM costs), and online entertainment and dating/relationship services upping their spending as they receive record traffic. Retailers too are tentatively returning to advertising as stores and e-commerce offerings start to reopen or expand their service.

In short, the publishing industry has had its fair share of highs and lows. Whether it’s the competition from non-traditional players or advertising roadblocks or the never-ending monetisation struggle, the lockdown has tested the industry’s ability to innovate products and services, retain readers and revenues, and, more importantly, protect sites and data.

Today, publishers face three significant challenges as they plan for future profitability in a changing landscape: keeping sites up and running and optimized under the weight of record traffic, turning as many of those new readers/viewers into loyal repeat customers, and all the while not losing sight of important security considerations.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

• Reliability & performance : Record traffic levels mean even the most well-designed site can start straining at the seams. Site outages and slow performance – particularly on mobile devices – means people click away to another source. Keeping things running smoothly is job No. 1 as failures not only damage a brand’s reputation, they mean that casual visitors may never come back; more practically it also means no ad impressions.

• Consumer experience and personalization : Once everything is stable and scalable, sites that differentiate by layout, content, flexibility, device and even personalization are likely to stay in readers’ minds (and bookmarks) for longer. Innovation (driven by necessity) here has seen much more video content creation and consumption, citizen-based reporting and a focus on driving more understanding. Several digital publishers have been applauded for investing heavily in crafting easy-to-understand data-driven graphics to track Covid-19.

• Not losing sight of security : Security is a necessary overhead – one that might be tempting to skimp on, to improve performance, or get fresh content live quicker – but there is a lot more at stake here. From blocking malicious bots to ensuring proper protection for paywalled content to securing remote working communications and protecting user identities, keeping your digital properties secure is a must. We’ve seen a massive increase in DDoS attacks during the pandemic. Recent coverage by an Intelligence firm Cyfirma, around the possibility of major cyber-attacks cautioned Indian publishers in particular, highlighting the pressing need to be on guard.

Additionally, those firms with flexible platforms have been able to adapt to the new normal quickly – for instance using a switch to differentiate the free content from the subscription-based content.

What’s the way out?

Addressing these core challenges will enable publishers to squeeze as much out of the limited available ad-spend as possible from their digital properties. Properties that incidentally have become much more important to mixed-media publishing groups as other forms of publication have effectively been put on hold. Smart digital publishing teams will use this opportunity to drive home the fact that they hold the keys to the publisher’s future and need more resources to continue thriving. They will also be focused on upcoming issues like the loss of 3rd party cookies, and Google removing the AMP requirement for featuring in the ‘Top stories’ section.

In the long term, many publishers are going to have to look at revenue diversification; recent events have highlighted the fragility of the advertising market, and it’s no coincidence that publications with a subscription service have fared better. Now, not all publishers can pivot to subscriptions – this typically suits business-focused or niche titles (think finance, politics, or campaigning newspapers), but most can do more to build reader communities (through user registration) and explore alternate mediums like podcasts, e-commerce affiliation etc. At the very least, registration increases the value of your audience to advertisers as you can more clearly demonstrate who they are.

Staying Strong

Publishing has weathered many storms over the years – like the print decline and the impact of digital in the late 2000s – and it will weather this pandemic too. As consumers continue to value objectivity, authoritative coverage and quality journalism, publishers will continue to find an audience.

The remaining six months of 2020 will certainly be very tough, especially since no one really knows what the future holds. However, as an industry, we have to hunker down and emerge stronger than ever when things return to normal. Digital is the best way to preserve and grow that link to readers – most firms have already recognised this – but the pandemic may just accelerate how quickly this switch will happen.

An expert panel of top business executives as well as CTOs will address these Publishing business and technology trends in this exciting, interactive webinar. Registrations are open now!

Paul Jackson
Paul Jackson

(The article is authored by Paul Jackson, Senior Manager, Media Industry Strategy at Akamai Technologies)