“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today's column is written by Doug Llewellyn, chief operating officer at Purch.
Digital publishers are worried about how publishing platforms meant to speed up mobile load times, such as Google’s AMP, Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple’s News, will impact their bottom lines during a period of already-declining ad revenues. A quick look back at some recent history shows why.
First, publishers saw Facebook cut down their referral traffic in favor of keeping readers within its app and site. Then it launched a mobile publishing platform that promised the traffic back, but at a fraction of the ad revenue and the users would stay within Facebook’s domain. Next, it introduced Instant Articles as a faster-loading alternative to mobile web browsers.
Sensing an opportunity, Apple and Google recently jumped in with their own platforms aimed specifically at mobile users. While there has been and continues to be some panic within the industry as revenues fall, we need to keep the bigger picture in mind.
Relying strictly on an ad-supported publishing model is today about as realistic for a publisher as preventing digital piracy once was for the CD-based record industry. As that industry learned, new paths to monetization are always possible as long as the underlying demand for a quality product remains. Restricting access to one platform or another is not generally feasible in the long term.
Ad blockers recently rocked the publishing industry, which has responded rapidly by paring down intrusive ads and even partnering with platforms they previously condemned. While the problem has by no means been resolved, it’s an example of how quickly the industry can pivot once there’s a financial incentive.
So what makes these types of instant article platforms a good thing?
In a modern publishing industry in which diversified revenue streams have emerged – video production, ecommerce integration, paid research, events – instant-article platforms promise to help publishers attract new audiences in an increasingly targeted way. They promise to help publishers bring additional and much-needed value to their audiences, rather than competing in a race to the bottom for page views and ad dollars.
Publishers can look at it as a simple cost-benefit analysis: Is the cost of ignoring a reach of potentially billions of consumers worth the benefit of keeping all traffic within your domain because of ad revenue? Probably not.
A publisher using Instant Articles has the ability to reach a massive audience that, in many cases, they would never have access to organically. While this access may not drive as much ad revenue in the near term, it could ultimately expand the audience for value-add services that will more than replace lost ad revenue for savvy publishers.
Instant-article platforms are a symptom, not the cause, of a new publishing paradigm in which content is increasingly sharable and far less attached to any specific platform or channel. This shouldn’t be news to anyone – we’ve seen this coming since at least the advent of social media back at the turn of the century.
To adapt, publishers need to bring additional value to consumers beyond just compelling content, using content as a vehicle to promote additional offerings and provide longer-term value to the consumer. As has happened so many times in the modern tech environment, the standard model in which great content drives clicks and, in turn, drives ad dollars has been disrupted.
And, as is often the case with disruption, there will be some initial discomfort followed by the emergence of a more dynamic, productive and efficient industry that better meets consumers’ needs.
Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News are forcing publishers to confront the changing expectations of consumers and marketers in the industry. We should work to adapt.