By Scott O’Neill | SVP North America | MPP Global
When testing new business models, transparency with subscribers is the best ally available. While most publishers know that, it can be difficult to understand what “transparency” means in practice — particularly where innovation is concerned.
Incredulous? Let’s start with programmatic, hailed as a massive innovation except, it also nourishes a booming ad fraud business. Much of the money that should go to publishers actually goes to fraudsters: Fake sites mounted to attract bots, outfitted with programmatic advertising that eats publishers’ lunches. Bot fraud cost the sector $6.3 billion in a single year.
Fake news is an offshoot, but instead of drawing bots, it’s snaring people with emotional headlines, whose goal is clicks and collecting ad revenue. In addition to sullying the programmatic pool, it harms publishing at large.
Naturally, programmatic on your own site saves time and earns money. But it also contributes to illogical ad placements that hurt users, giving rise to another negative trend: Ad blocking.
Innovation whose core value is not user experience will ultimately cannibalize business. In response to this, The New York Times stopped using programmatic altogether—a move that makes sense when you consider the truth of this principle.
Great innovations put users at the center and are upfront about benefits, incorporating feedback and behavior directly into optimization. Consider these:
- Mobile-first. With its Espresso app, The Economist leveraged the fact that mobile is our most intimate technology—over 50 percent of human web traffic comes from these devices. Espresso’s been downloaded over 1 million times, and its articles are well-curated and short enough to appeal to users in a hurry: Little more than 150 words each. It respects their time.
- Diversifying your product. No one wants to be married to a costly long-term pub just to get the crossword. By making it possible to buy its crossword separately, The New York Times grosses nearly $3 million more yearly. You can also get its food app separately; The Boston Globe does the same with finance coverage.
- Custom experiences. Apps from the BBC, the Guardian and the Washington Post enable people to personalize their news—defining what categories matter most to them, and how often they want to see them.
- Hard paywalls. Don’t laugh—it’s a way to valorize content! And people are glad to respect that as long as you don’t surprise them with a paywall overnight without explanation. When you take the time to educate people on your position, you’re addressing them not merely as peers but as elite readers. That’s why the Financial Times does so well while other brands who try this method languish.
You won’t know what works best for readers unless you experiment, which drives us back to that last point: Be upfront with them about your strategies, and walk them through your thought process. The majority of news lovers don’t want journalists to go hungry, but it’s unfair to expect them to understand a business position that doesn’t include them. If you’re skeptical, consider that Ad Block is often switched off when publications—like Forbes—simply ask them to switch them off, then commit to offering ads that are non-intrusive.
Publishers need agile technology to succeed. The ability to support flexible business models and creating new products and services on the fly will ultimately drive engagement with your already loyal audience. Innovation doesn’t happen in massive leaps. It’s an ongoing conversation, as are successes and failures. However much we evolve, there is no silver bullet for bypassing that core human need be acknowledged and involved.
Scott is a strategic and media technology professional with over ten years of U.S. & U.K. client service and leadership experience. As Senior Vice President of North America for MPP Global, Scott is responsible for leading a cross vertical organization by assisting media and entertainment companies with identity management, CRM, and eCommerce solutions. Over the past three years, Scott has worked at the executive level for MPP Global’s U.S. headquarters in New York and is influential in developing long-term relationships with strategic partners.