9 Digital publishing trends to surf in 2015

Just when you think the media environment is about to settle down, the rate of change goes up a gear.  The global spread of smartphones has prompted rapid evolution in how people read and consume content, and raised further their expectations of ease of use and service.  Few publishing markets remain untouched by this digital locust swarm.

So what are the top digital publishing trends that you will need to surf in 2015 to keep your media business on its feet?  Here’s my prediction based on my conversations and projects with publishers over the last 12 months.

1.    The world in your pocket (or hand)

By the end of this year 2.5 billion people worldwide will own a smartphone, and in an average day will check it 150 times and spend 82 minutes gazing at a tiny screen.  The easy availability of information in a few thumb swipes encourages a degree of laziness among readers.  So publishers must make their mobile content browsable and snackable.  News media have led the way with dedicated smartphone apps: Guardian, Metro, FT, Economist, designed to snag attention in interstitial moments, and build a regular habit.  A miniaturised version of your website won’t cut it on a 5″ screen: you need to develop a dedicated smartphone edition that delivers the good stuff simply.

2.    Digital video trumps text

Video sucks attention away from pure text – on websites, digital magazines and apps – especially for the under 35s.  And video ad spend is growing four times faster than standard online display.  So all publishers have to learn how to create enticing editorial video, and build video opportunities for advertisers.

3.    Rise of sociable content

Social content sharing is now driving more traffic than search for pure-play news media like Huff Post and Buzzfeed – so traditional publishers must take note.  Creating content specifically designed to be shareable is a crucial skill for editors.  B2B media like Euromoney have already learnt that developing content for conferences based on the twitter preoccupations of their audience is good business sense.

4.    Advertising as a service

As display advertising becomes less effective, and advertisers focus on content marketing, video and measurable results, publishers must change their working relationship to emphasise service levels.  Lloyd’s List has successfully converted – and upsold – advertisers from print to digital through relentless focus on creating bespoke campaigns that are tracked and optimised weekly.  Guardian Professional has a dedicated team creating tailored content for clients and monitoring results.

5.    Metadata unlocks archive value

Good content has a long half-life, but as the New York Times Digital Innovation Report showed, it has to be tagged to be discoverable.

John O’Donnell, CTO of the FT, believes in building re-usable content assets, and claims: “I would delete archive content without any meta-data.”  Archives are packed with value but it doesn’t come free: publishers must invest in tagging and meta-data and smart search technology.

6.    Collaborative NPD

In an uncertain world, future customer requirements are hard to predict accurately.  So many media organisations are involving customer groups in their NPD process.  HSJ Intelligence was developed by Emap in collaboration with eight customers and is one of their most successful subscription launches ever.  B2B conference producers are realising the value of developing an expert professional community to identify emerging hot topics for new events.

7.    Data detectives

Digital media allow publishers to learn far more about how people actually consume their content.  Stonewash analysed digital magazine data to uncover that weekly publications were far more intensively read than monthlies.  The FT learnt that the stories they released in the morning were actually being read in the evening, so they changed their news schedule.  When Haymarket launched Campaign in the US they monitored the views and shares per article to refine what topics the audience wanted.  And for digital subscription services, close inspection of reader analytics can highlight accounts at risk of lapse.

8.    Premier tiers

Understanding reader behaviour can identify opportunities for premium subscription services, creating a pyramid of value with a small number of big ticket customers at the highest levels.  Award winning publisher Procurement Leaders has used good content, bespoke subs packages and high service levels to build a strong premium membership tier.

9.    The agile publisher

With limited visibility of future opportunities, smart organisations must place lots of small bets along the frontiers of their current markets.  Peter Rigby, architect of Informa’s impressive growth, described the organisation as an archipelago of autonomous teams making incremental advances.  This fits with the principles of agile software development, a philosophy that many publishers would do well to understand as their business becomes as much about technology as content. Read more about the agile publisher.

So we are moving into a more fluid era, with content available in many forms, and the customer very definitely in charge.  Publishers need to become comfortable with a more flexible approach, inviting customers into the product development process and enlisting them into their marketing activity. The good news is that there is now far more data available to understand behaviour and inform decisions. Welcome to the fluid world of media in 2015!

About the author:  Carolyn Morgan has launched, grown, acquired and sold media businesses across print, digital and events.  She has programmed several highly regarded conferences on digital publishing and advises publishers on their digital strategy.

If you’d like a chat about how you can reinvent your publishing or media business for the digital age, please get in touch.

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