Online Publishers: Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

One of the main themes of discussion here at the Web 3.0 Conference in New York City is how Web content is being digested. With the shift from destination sites to syndication through multiple channels, the publishers that create all this content face a real challenge. They have typically relied on page views: the more page views, the more advertising revenue.

But relying on page views is no longer an option. The lion’s share of revenue that publishers generate comes from advertisers, and advertisers are now demanding to see more actionable ROI on their advertising dollars. Publishers are feeling the crunch.

This is a guest post by Steve Poland, who is currently focused on his stealth startup InSeconds.

ReadWriteWeb’s own Bernard Lunn moderated a panel here that addressed a couple of the challenges that most publishers struggle with these days. Below are some of the salient points that emerged from the discussion.

How to Reduce the Cost of Creating High-Quality Content

  • Embrace better tools to make processes more efficient. It is a fact that too many publishers are clamoring for an ever-decreasing share of the advertising pie (revenue). Publishers need to be leaders in innovation. Two-thirds of the industry is waiting for someone to lead the way; most of these followers will fall by the wayside, and the others will work from the platforms that the leaders become.
  • Get readers to write content. Look for the top commenters in your reading community. Some of them would likely contribute posts to your site. Reach out to them.
  • Write content that readers want. Website logs show which topics and posts draw the most interest from readers. Use this information to understand what content your readers want.
  • How do you profit from content that has depth but takes time to research and write? Bernard emphasized that publishers make money by selling ads, and this money is typically tied to page views. A publisher can run a quick post like, “Lindsay Lohan’s Twitter Meltdown,” which may take mere minutes to write and generates 200,000 page views, whereas an in-depth post on something technical, which could take several days and several interviews to write, may generate only 20,000 page views. So should you bother writing those quick posts that are inevitably regurgitated by a ton of other publishers? Content with longevity eventually earns more money (like films, it generates revenue for years). Refocus your content so that it has staying power or can be archived somewhere for future licensing.

How to Increase Revenue

  • Maximize your brand elsewhere.Andraz Tori, CTO of Zemanta, noted that not all media is monetizable. He believes that the consolidation of content and the creation of content via crowd-sourcing (e.g. Wikipedia) will ultimately drive the price of content to nothing. (Although some publishers will be able to charge for content, the way that D&B can still charge $10,000+ for profile reports on private companies). By spending time on in-depth content creation, you build your brand, allowing you to extend that brand to conferences, report sales, etc.
  • Advertisers want engagement.Julie Nielsen of appssavvy said that so much inventory is available for advertisers to buy from, they don’t even know where to look. Advertisers want actionable results; they want to track their ROI, and a click is not revenue to them. Publishers need to sell to advertisers that are relevant to their audience and then educate advertisers to purchase differently, partly by offering advertisers data (beyond mere clicks) that tells a deeper story about their brand engagement.

The panel obviously didn’t have all the answers, but it started a good discussion that we hope to continue here. What ideas do you have, and what opportunities do you see in this shift in publishing?

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