Our jury will be looking for entrepreneurial endeavour on the part of online publishers and this category is designed to recognise the successful launch of new digital properties – new publishing websites or mobile properties that have gone live during 2015 or the first two months of 2016. Entrants should demonstrate a clear understanding of the target audience, an approach to content which demonstrates originality, and evidence of the commercial viability of the launch.
The industry is continually improving but at this moment it is increasingly volatile, for obvious reasons, particularly in certain sectors that are more economically impacted. There is an odd parallel with the music industry. In the 1970s and 1980s you could be solely a recording artist living off album sales alone, but now most need a much broader portfolio to make similar returns. The same is true of publishing where straightforward news and features publishing must be supplemented with events and seminars, Big Data, and member services, as well as commercial activities like advertising and sponsorship or endorsement. Publishers face challenges from changing popularity of formats – for example increased use of video – as well as taking a hit on the bottom line due to technologies like ad blockers. Some publishers are well placed to take advantage of evolving market conditions, while others need to invest in technology or re-platform to access additional and alternative revenue streams. For reasons of productivity and efficiency it is in many publishers’ best interests to automate as much of their operation as they can, which means further reliance on technological innovations.
Many challenges will be technological and will involve getting your business in a position where it can take best advantage of the evolving marketplace, harnessing additional and alternative revenue streams. Freemium will evolve and there will be much greater use of metering and paywalls in the future – with greater emphasis on different ways to pay for, access, and consume the same information. We expect a significant move to member services, which is already evident with most leading newspapers including Daily Mail Rewards, Guardian Members, and Times+. For B2B, we see the Holy Grail as full-service vertical professional member portals, which fulfil the complete needs of a particular niche or professional sector, including Big Data, intelligence, events, training, recruitment, collaboration, and networking. A number of operations are still set up along very traditional lines, and will need to evolve their systems, processes, and skill-sets via an injection of new blood, as well as significant training and re-training. Other impact points include the increasing move to video, expert or personality bloggers taking traffic away from columnists, and the growing importance of audience-reach platforms like Facebook and Medium. Publishers need to understand how to factor all those different elements into business models.
The ad-supported publishing model has been a key revenue stream since the start of the commercial Internet. For a long time it was the only revenue model for most publishers. Ad blockers pose a significant threat not just to ad revenues, but also to various other third-party cookie-enabled services, and publishers will need several different business models to extract the optimal revenue from each opportunity. We will see an increase in member services and subscriptions triggered via content-metering mechanics, as first pioneered by the likes of the Financial Times. Technology will prove to be an increasingly significant factor, not just in how a publishing business is delivered, but also in how it is run. We find all publishers want more real-time intelligence about their customers, which means a very heavy reliance on CRM technologies baked into the core of the business solution and forming a key part of the business model. Publishers will need to move towards tighter technological integration, both for security reasons and to counter third-party cookie blockers and ad blockers. At the moment most are too reliant on cookie-enabled third-party tech, which means both their revenue sources and security integrity are at high risk.
Due to recent events right now is not necessarily the best time for brand new launches, rather for technology updates and improvements, re-platforming, and re-launches. We are entering a period of economic uncertainty, which potentially means more competition for a smaller pool of revenue, at least in the short to medium term. During this period it will be crucial to be rapier sharp and efficient to make the most of tough trading conditions. These times will bring great opportunities for some, and those that have honed and finely tuned their offerings to take best advantage of the digital economy will likely be the ones that do best. Those with broader portfolios and varied revenue streams should be better placed to weather any turbulence. Businesses must remain competitive and viable for their intended target audience. Where consumers run with multiple subscriptions across several competing titles, there may be some tightening of the belt, meaning that the more progressive businesses will likely make gains against the slower moving ones. Having the best technology to provide an accurate real-time gauge on where the market is moving will be critical to maintaining or gaining a leadership position within your chosen sector.
It’s all about the residuals, not just making a big splash at the beginning, but appealing to, retaining, and growing your audience over the ensuing period. We believe consumers or users want ever bigger stakes in the companies and organisations they do business with, which means increased scope for interaction, participation, and collaboration. The launches that do best are the ones that encourage and incentivise user participation. Design and beautiful UIs will always be significant, but somewhat less so if they are at the expense of user experience and usability. In gauging a great launch look at the specific user and business cases to see how well the new environment serves its intended purpose, and matches the expectations of its intended audience. You must have decent traction, underlined by usability and dynamism. Consumers have become a lot more demanding, so it has to be about how well you deliver on the initial promise, and how satisfied the median user feels by the whole experience – how much value they feel they get out of it.