Tag Archives: Publishing

Publisher : Cavete

Sometimes I look at what’s going on in publishing as if someone was whispering the Springsteen lyric in management’s ear:

Those romantic young boys, they’re callin’ through the window
Hey, Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?

The easy money comes from native advertising, particularly the kind that’s plug and play. Just as in the song, however, there isn’t any easy money that comes without strings attached and some research from Penn State found out just what those strings entail.

The research team found that when content was identified as native advertising, readers held a lower opinion of the media outlet it was published in. However, the reputation of the company being promoted was not affected…“We all have the idea that the news media should be objective and neutral…that’s how it works,” Wu said. “But people may see the media and companies working together to deceive us…so they change their perception toward the media more dramatically. On the other hand, people see that the company is just doing what it’s supposed to, promoting itself.”

The speaker in the quote above is the PhD student who conducted the study. While I certainly understand the importance of revenue generation in an increasingly competitive and difficult marketplace, I also understand the value of a publisher’s reputation. That reputation, like all of ours, takes a long time to establish but can be shattered rather quickly. The loss of trust is fatal for any brand and particularly so for an information service.

Maybe it’s called “native content” or maybe it’s actually identified as “sponsored content” or a “promoted post.”  Either way, it’s generally not immediately identifiable as being from a source different from the main news or information the publisher puts out.  I think most of us dislike being enticed to read something under false pretenses, and part of the decision to invest time in reading involves the quality of the content which is predicated on the source.  When we’re deceived, we’re unhappy, and when we’re unhappy, we don’t return.

Publishers need to beware.  There is no easy money to be made unless you’re in it for the short term and are reputation-agnostic.  Are you?

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Faust And Facebook

You might be aware that Facebook has started yet another new program with a few publishers.  Called “Instant Articles”, the program lets a select number of news organizations publish stories directly to Facebook and the publishers keep the ad revenue. There are nine launch partners, including BuzzFeed, The New York Times and NBC News.  If you use the Facebook app on an iPhone you might already have seen it.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A number of news reports have used the term “faustian” to describe the program and I agree.  You’ll recall the legend of Faust and his deal with the devil – he got something he wanted in return for the devil owning his soul (and eternal damnation!).  While it’s a bit of a stretch to equate Facebook with the devil, it’s an apt metaphor.  All publishers – especially those whose business models are dependent upon lots of content views – want greater visibility.  Facebook is the largest platform and in this case the publisher can monetize those views.  Makes sense, right?

Not really in my view.  Sure, if you’re happy with “one and done” traffic it’s fine but this is no way to build a loyal audience.  Many of the publishers I know count repeat visits as a KPI.  This doesn’t build that.  It’s especially bad if any of your model counts on subscription revenue.  The breadth and depth of your content offering – the quality that drives the justification for the subscription – is negated.

Facebook controls the terms of this news-publishing deal.  Ask any brand if they’ve experienced Facebook changing the game in the middle of play and they’ll say yes.  After all, this is the platform that encouraged brands to build pages and followings and then took away news feed access while encouraging ad spend.  Who is to say that this program won’t change again in a few months?  It’s especially troubling that news outlets will be able to publish so-called “branded content” directly to Facebook.  I’ve made my views on native ads that are indistinguishable from your own news content well-known.  Embedding them on Facebook makes them even more difficult to identify as sponsor messages (and who is to say when Facebook will demand their cut).

Don’t misunderstand.  I see high value in using Facebook both for publishing and for advertising.  I just think that abandoning the efforts to drive users to your own platform is ultimately self-defeating.  When you think about it, Facebook doesn’t produce content. They produce a platform but users and brands populate that platform with the real value – content. Companies that don’t produce value in the long run disappear and if you’ve put your eggs in the Facebook basket rather than continuing your own efforts, it really may be a deal with the devil.

Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Are You A Premium Brand?

I read something that the folks at OpenX released the other day in conjunction with Digiday.  It’s the results of a study on Programmatic Buying and how it affects premium publishers. Since 71% of publishers and buyers trade ads programmatically it’s a big deal. You can read the paper here.

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(Photo credit: HeartOfTelluride.com)

Having been a publisher of premium content I can tell you that I hated selling anything programmatically.  I wanted my sales folks involved directly with the buyer.  Not just so that we could get the premium CPM we felt we deserved but because we needed to earn that higher rate by doing a better job of meeting the needs of the client and delivering perfect service.  The study sums it up nicely:

Publishers, fearing the commoditization of the inventory surrounding their expensively produced content and painstakingly nurtured audiences, have every right to guard their investment. They want to make sure that any system that removes “friction” doesn’t also remove the distinction of their brand and the quality of their adjacencies, as measured by audience engagement. And, understandably, they want to preserve the professional relationships that forge the bedrock of their sustainable revenue growth.

Exactly.  But as the Digiday article states, premium is all in the eye of the beholder.  Which raised the issue I’ve been considering:  how do you define a premium brand?  Is it scarcity?  To a certain extent it is although there are plenty of Lexus cars around and that’s a premium brand.  Cost?  Maybe relative to other products in its class but coffee can be premium and it’s still relatively inexpensive.  One factor involved is positioning.  If you usually fly first class, being in business class seems cramped.  To a coach passenger, however, business class is premium.  Another is authenticity of some sort.  I was a publisher of hockey content – there are lots of people who do that.  I was the only official league outlet, however – that meant scarcity, authenticity, and in our minds a greater worth.

I could go on here for another 1,000 words but the notion of “premium” is one that’s going to become even more front and center as content becomes more commoditized.  I mean that not only in media buyers‘ minds but also in consumers’ minds.  It’s hard to ask consumers to pay a premium, either in money or in attention,  for an app or content or anything else if we can’t establish that premium status in their minds.

What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

The Natives Are Restless

Today we hit once again on the “everything old is new again” theme that we touch upon from time to time. One of the best media analysts in the business is my friend Dan Salmon at BMO Capital Markets. He released a report on a “Native Advertising Summit” he attended. It made me smile and I’d like to share why that was.

First, what the heck is native advertising?  Way back in the olden days of the web, we used things such as  banners, boxes, buttons.  This ad units sat on the web page hoping a user would notice them.  Others, such as pop-ups, interrupted users’ content experiences.  These units are still the purview of all of the programmatic buying found via ad networks and other RTB platforms.

So-called native advertising is way more integrated.  Sponsored Stories, promoted Tweets,  and sponsored videos are just a few of the  formats sprouting up across the web, giving brands a channel to connect directly with consumers through content and publishers a new opportunity for revenue.  As Dan wrote in his report:

It is increasingly clear that the native trend is becoming a pressure point for publishers pushing back on recent digital ad innovation that has mostly centered on real-time bidding, programmatic ad buying, and improved yield for buyers much more than sellers. At the same time, these publishers are finding a willing and hugely important constituency on the buy side, but one that is traditionally under-represented in digital marketing: branding-oriented advertising budgets.

In other words, publishers are sick of the dive to the bottom CPM‘s are taking and so we’re going to use something very old:  sponsor integration into content.  It’s Your Lucky Strike Theater all over again!  I’m sure there will be all sorts of technologies sprouting up to make this happen in a more efficient way, but the activity is the same.  Sponsors are trying to gain both visibility as well as shared brand equity with the content they’re sponsoring.  You see this in sports all the time (and it dates back to The Gillette Cavalcade Of Sports in the late 1940’s).

To touch on my favorite theme – the tools change but the basic business doesn’t.  We can call it native advertising or we can call it sponsorship   I call it smart, even if it isn’t really new.  How about you?

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If the internet has a downside, it’s that is has neither barriers to entry nor a filter.  Of course, that’s also part of what’s so good about it.  However, there is really no way to tell if what you’re reading is from a credible source that did research or if it’s just made up crap.  One way I think users can distinguish one from the other is by considering the source.  Legitimate news operations tend to have done their homework and there’s usually some sort of editorial control in place to assure that some writer’s fantasy doesn’t get put out there as fact.

That’s why I found the story in this morning’s Media Post so disturbing:

If there is a red line delineating the church and state of journalism, some big news publishers have just crossed it — introducing a spate of new “native” advertising formats that blur the line between advertising and editorial content in new ways, including brand-produced videos served directly in the news organizations’ video news players.

This is not a new phenomenon.  “Advertorials” have been around for a long time.  These are long-form ads written to appear as regular editorial and are designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story. It might be a TV piece that’s an “infomercial,” or as a segment on a talk show or variety show. In radio, it might be a discussion between the announcer and a brand representative.  The brand usually controls all of the content and there are subtile differences – a tiny “advertisement” written someplace – that make it hard for someone encountering the content to tell that it’s brand advocacy, not editorial.

I’m not a fan.  Obviously I’m a big fan of ad-supported media – I worked in it and sold it for decades.  I do think, however, that doing this in digital in particular is an issue since there is so much content out there and users’ expectations of editorial integrity as explained above are not met when the line is crossed.  It calls into question all of the legitimate reporting.  I get that people might ignore advertising but pay attention to this.  They need to know it’s not the same as other content.

The pressure for revenue can’t undermine the integrity of the news brand, and while it’s easy to rationalize including this sort of advertising, you’re ceding control to someone who may not meet the same sort of standards you set for your organization.  I don’t think that’s smart.

What do you think?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Paperless Books

Today’s title might have been seen as an oxymoron just a few years ago.  I mean, the notion of a “book” without paper was as unrealistic as book publishers graciously declining to publish an author’s work and doing so promptly.

Then came e-readers which some said would hurt the book industry.  As with the music business, book publishers did whatever they could to prevent digital downloads of books by charging exorbitant prices (the same prices as if the book had to be printed on paper) and refusing to allow certain titles to go digital.  With the Kindle and other reading devices reaching scale (roughly 15% of American readers have one), the industry has come to recognize that porting content to another platform may be disruptive in the short-term but potentially a great thing over time.  Want more proof? Continue reading

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What Is It And Why Do I Care?

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A group of very smart web executives and I were talking about content and how to present it to increase engagement.  The discussion centered around defining how we should be thinking about user engagement with content – is it just page views, is it time on a page, is greater time on fewer pages just as good as a lot of quick views, etc.  I tried to simplify it down to the basic question I think is in the user’s mind:  what is this and why should I care about it.  Let me explain. Continue reading

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