Publishers Advance

Interest alert: I am a Founding Director of Enreach, an online audience measurement business selling services to many premium publishers.

The newspaper publishing industry is, it is well known going through a process of reinvention. The issues are simple to state, rather harder to solve. As consumers discover they can get their written news for free they stop buying papers. Fewer sales equals smaller cover-price revenues; and ultimately less ad revenue too. Newspapers’ digital versions, online, on mobile, on tablet build readership but revenue always lags – subscriptions (where they exist) build slowly and digital ad space is simply not worth as much relatively, the industry has decreed, as printed ad space.

At the same time the cost of creating the very content required to attract people remains high. Quality journalism doesn’t come cheap, whatever the format it finishes up in. Result: a revenue gap.

Newspaper (and for that matter magazine) publishers do though hold one very valuable card when it comes to transitioning to a digital format. And that card is data. In theory publishers know a great deal about their readers, what editorial appeals to them, how they move through the content, how they react to ads, how different creative executions attract different groups at different levels of interest, and how all this interest translates to action. All of this data can lead to valuable insights.

There are two major problems. First, the words ‘in theory’ and ‘can’ in the preceding paragraph. And second, the buying side of the equation needs to be persuaded of the value of insights.

For many years the media owner side of the business has been in thrall to the agencies. An over-supply of inventory has meant that publisher sales teams have had to play on the agencies’ turf, with the rules set by the buyers. One reason for this has been that all knowledge rests with the agency and the client – any publisher would find it hard to build a compelling sales case without an understanding of what the client is trying to do. Joint industry audience surveys (of which I’m a huge fan) have stilted individual initiatives – initiatives that often founder on the Mandy Rice-Davies principle of ‘well, you would say that wouldn’t you’.

Now the tables are turning. Knowledge, in the form of data rests with the publishers – who can by using what they have wisely rise above the commoditisation of digital space by selling well-defined audiences to advertisers and their agencies – and can add value by measuring and reporting on the results.

Publisher sales teams are learning to sell their medium in new and creative ways. They’re also starting to understand and to quantify how each particular vehicle can deliver defined benefits to their advertisers. They’re doing this in many interesting and varied ways as their role starts to be redefined.

What about the agencies? The smarter amongst them are starting to understand the true value of collaboration with the media owners. The old confrontational way of buying and selling is coming to an end as both sides start to work together for the benefit of their mutual clients. And, not before time.


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