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Staying adaptable is critical to future-proofing digital publishing

Published: 03 Jun 2021
Author: Richard Reeves

Among many tributes paid to The Guardian for its recent bicentenary, there was one that perfectly summed up the power of publishers to evolve and thrive particularly when the publication has navigated two world wars, the rise of the web, fake news and at least two pandemics. According to Tom Grundy, editor of the Hong Kong Free Press, the “200-year-old paper has managed to constantly reinvent itself whilst maintaining its identity and broadening its readership.” 

Grundy isn’t alone. For me, the industry’s ability to successfully tackle each new issue is an ongoing source of admiration and motivation — and there are always plenty of inspirational examples. The Telegraph, for instance, has celebrated 25 years since it became the first daily UK national title to diversify revenue by embracing a subscription model, in addition to surpassing the substantial milestone of 600K subscribers. As shifts across the digital media ecosystem create more hurdles, the industry must continue to overcome them with swift adaptation and unrelenting focus on audience value. 

Measuring up to Core Web Vitals

The Google page experience update is a prominent discussion point for AOP members and online publishers at large. The introduction of ‘Core Web Vitals’, alongside existing search signals, will improve the user experience and result in positive changes for publishers: such as higher search rankings for delivering fast-loading, seamlessly interactive and mobile-friendly content, as well as minimal interstitial intrusion and maximum security. But it’s also set to prove yet another test of publishers’ adaptability. 

As we enter the early stages of a long rollout – now delayed until August – it remains unclear what impact the revised rules will have on previous frameworks from Google such as Accelerated Mobile Pages, and there will certainly be a resource implication for publishers too. This makes it crucial to continue asking questions and driving a two-way dialogue that will help improve understanding and support publishers in their preparations. As ever, the AOP encourages collaboration and conversation, and our blog comments section is open for discussion. 

Understanding the power of publisher data

In a nod to those who enjoy mocking my previous admissions, there are few better illustrations of how much time changes priorities than comparing my teenage woes to the issues that keep me awake nowadays. At the age of 14, my main concern was finding enough space for my Royal Academy of Arts sculpture on the living room mantlepiece. Now, my attention is firmly fixed on much wider issues that have grown to dominate multiple sectors and cause confusion for publishers and advertisers alike — data. 

Data holds prime position on the AOP’s agenda for many reasons; including the growing role it plays in enabling publishers to keep pace with complex user habits, increasing privacy restrictions and the demise of third-party cookies. For now, the lack of a singular play or obvious solution means further ingenuity, collaboration and experimentation is paramount. The key factor we can be sure of is that publishers hold a distinct and significant advantage when it comes to sourcing high-quality, first-party data as they nurture trusted relationships with their readers over time.  

Navigating towards greater media trust

Trust remains a strong focus in the industry and beyond. It was the main theme of our first AOP CRUNCH event of 2021 — where experts from across the digital ecosystem debated how journalistic truth can be maintained in today’s stormy online climate.  

Following that session, I’ve been invited to share ideas on acclimatising to the changing media landscape with MPs at the National Liberal Club, where we’ll explore different thoughts about addressing issues with trust, truth, and misinformation at a broader scale. 

In the meantime, closure of submissions for our Digital Publishing Awards marks the start of fresh inspiration about publisher creativity and innovation. I’ve been bowled over by the number of innovative entries after such a trying year. Keep an eye out for the much-anticipated shortlist in the next week. 

And while I will be taking heart from encouraging tales of advances and smart pivots in line with pandemic challenges, it’s important to remember the adaptation journey is never over. As new challenges persistently emerge, publishers must continually demonstrate their huge capacity to nimbly re-configure content strategy, self-regulate on data best practice and work together to find better paths to future-proof success and lasting user trust.