In a swiftly evolving digital landscape it’s not easy for publishers to know which trends and predictions to follow. Miss a big trend, and the competition could easily scoop you. Hitch your wagon to a trend that doesn’t pan out, and you could waste time and resources. Determining which trends to follow depends on your content and your audience, but there are some overarching themes no publisher should ignore. When publishers create and refine revenue development strategies, they need to know how their ads, premium content, custom job boards, and other revenue streams will need to evolve alongside technology.
Today’s digital publishers are distributing content across multiple platforms in order to grab the attention of readers no matter which device they’re using. According to the Alliance for Audited Media 2012 Digital Publishing Survey, 90% of responding media companies now have a mobile presence, often in the form of apps. iPhone apps are available from 85% of publishers, while iPad apps are available from 87% of publishers. Three-fourths of publishers have Android apps, and more than half of publishers have Kindle or Nook apps.
Trends That Haven’t Materialized
But not all predicted digital media trends have panned out. For example, predictions that digital book sales would account for half of trade sales by the dawn of 2013 did not come true. Instead, it appears that the digital book market has leveled off to around 23% of the overall trade. Plenty of people had high hopes for Sony’s Pottermore partnership with J.K. Rowling, but those high hopes were not realized due to technical retail inconveniences. Then again, many people predicted the death of the paywall, but paywalls have actually started to work out pretty well for some publishers.
As for trends no publisher should ignore, the three main ones are apps, paywalls, and mobile ad revenue.
One of the strongest digital publishing trends is native apps, which are downloadable programs made for specific operating systems, like iOS or various Android versions. Many digital publishers have web apps, which use web browsers to deliver content optimized for different screen sizes, but native apps are starting to edge past web apps in popularity. Magazines in particular are developing native apps with the iPad as a favorite platform. Newspapers are increasing native app development, but not quite at the same rate as magazines that want to take advantage of the great visual properties of the iPad for their photos and other graphics. Publishers aren’t picking and choosing platforms, with most simultaneously using content management systems to feed content to multiple mobile platforms.
Paywalls went through some growing pains in the years leading up to 2012, and many people declared them dead. However, earlier in 2013, Pew estimated that around one-third of the daily newspapers in the US either have paywalls or are in the process of implementing them. Right now metered paywalls are most popular. With metered paywalls, customers gain access to a fixed number of articles before they are required to pay to view more content. Paywalls that allow free access to some content but charge for premium content are also fairly popular, while “hard” paywalls – those that require payment to access any content – are falling out of favor due to detrimental effects on traffic development.
Profits from Mobile Content
Digital publishers are largely accepting that the old 80/20 rule concerning where revenues come from—with 80% of revenue from advertising and 20% from other sources—simply doesn’t work today. However, advertising revenue is still important, and mobile ad revenue is becoming an area of focus for many digital publishers. According to the Alliance for Audited Media survey mentioned above, by the end of 2014, nearly half of publishers expect mobile ad revenue to make up at least 10% of their overall ad revenue. Advertisers too are taking note of mobile ad opportunities, and they’re becoming savvier about demanding independent, third-party verification of mobile metrics before committing to mobile ad packages.
Soon 2013 will end, and along with 2014, a new batch of predictions about digital publishing will arrive. Some will be obvious. Some will fail to materialize, and still other advances may appear out of nowhere. Digital publishers have to be cognizant of digital publishing trends, but they have to look at them with discernment. When it comes to revenue development, apps, paywalls, and mobile advertising are three overarching trends that digital publishers need to watch closely. Whether they bring in revenues through sponsored content, white label job boards, or paid premium content, publishers will have to keep up with these trends as the digital revolution continues.