Recession is Coming: Here’s How Publishers can Weather the Storm

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With the great and the good of the global media industry descending on Zaragoza in Spain this week for World News Media Congress, a lot of talk is set to focus on the economic storm clouds that are gathering and how our industry should prepare itself. Reehan Sheikh, founder of global subscriptions platform, Evolok, offers his tips on the best strategies that publishers should be adopting to help weather the storm.

Consolidate To Cut Costs

Publishers are spoiled for choice in the rich ecosystem of third-party publisher tools and solutions available to them in the market. Often, a publisher will have one platform for identity management, one for its paywall and content access, another for subscription management and one to do audience segmentation. The downside of this approach has been that their tech stack has become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate. Added to this is the fact that not all of the solutions on the market are as effective as they claim to be. With economic challenges on the horizon, we expect publishers to start looking into ways that they can simplify this process by bringing as many capabilities as possible within trusted, multi-purpose platforms, helping to dramatically cut their costs.

Forget Cookies, Focus on First-Party Data

Google may have postponed the phaseout of third-party cookies on Chrome, but the direction of travel is still very clear. Publishers cannot rely on the revenues that cookie-based tracking and behavioural advertising once delivered, and they need to be looking into new strategies. Taking advantage of a publishers’ rich first-party data sets is critical and, as a topic, this will feature heavily at Congress. Publisher’s focus should be on how to best optimise this data, using it to launch new consent-based ad products and feeding the data into their subscription platforms to drive an improved and more personalised experience for their readers.

Dealing With Churn

With the current cost-of-living crisis, consumers are naturally going to be looking into ways to tighten their belts and cut costs. Magazine and newspaper subscriptions could easily be seen as an extravagance that many can’t afford. As such, it’s essential that publishers find ways to optimise the reader experience and add extra value wherever possible. Dynamic paywalls are one of the most effective ways a publisher can do this. Underpinned by advanced AI, the best platforms can analyse user behaviour patterns and spot readers that are about to churn. The dynamic paywall can then send them special offers or gifts to keep them engaged. A dynamic paywall can also spot a reader who is regularly viewing free content and most likely to be tempted into signing up as a subscriber, allowing the publisher to send them personalised content and discounts to help clinch the deal.

Overcoming Publisher Nerves

Dynamic paywalls deliver huge benefits for publishers. We’ve seen clients increase their revenue/subscriptions by as much as 70%. But the publishing industry has traditionally been very conservative when it comes to embracing technological innovation, including subscription-based models. There is a lingering fear that reader numbers will quickly drop following the transition, hurting advertiser revenue. There will no doubt be discussions at Congress on how our industry can overcome these fears. However, following the pandemic, we’ve seen that publishers who were initially reluctant to embrace a digital-first strategy are now reconsidering. With further challenges ahead, we expect more media brands to take the leap and embrace a dynamic model as they look to strengthen their business models.

Collaborate To Innovate

UK and American publishers have often been very guarded in their relationship with rival media houses. As a result, there has been a distinct lack of cooperation across the industry. With tough times ahead, media owners must wake up to the fact that their biggest competitors are no longer traditional publishers. They are competing against Google, Facebook and Amazon, who now take the lion’s share of ad budgets. One way that traditional media brands can work together is by forming cooperative groups that allow everyone to come together and share ideas on how to overcome industry challenges – whether it’s the death of the cookie, adopting the right paywall strategy or boosting revenue in the coming recession. This knowledge exchange doesn’t have to involve any sensitive information. It can just cover high-level and visionary discussions geared towards creating a healthy media sector that everyone can benefit from.

There’s no doubt there are challenges ahead for traditional publishers. But they will always have an ace up their sleeves. Unlike the tech giants, publishers are the guardians of trusted, brand-safe and premium editorial content. There will always be demand for this from both consumers and advertisers. And, if publishers can take advantage of the best technologies and ideas to drive subscriptions and improve the user experience, they will do more than just weather the storm. They’ll thrive.

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