How can publishers use analytics data to save themselves?

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How can publishers and advertising networks best use analytics data to prevent the extinction of digital magazines and newspapers?

While book publishing remains robust, print magazines and newspapers are quickly disappearing from the media landscape.

Despite a wholesale move to digital, the unabated decline in these industries seems to continue; even those that have committed to investments in print have failed to reverse the trend. Sadly, digital publishing is not proving the savior many had hoped.

It would be grand to say that digital analytics has helped players understand their audiences and provides more targeted content resulting in revenue, but we have not seen much of that.

Paywalls have worked only for the royals of the publishing world: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and a few others. Much of the decline for the rest is related to a continual drop in advertising rates. This is partially due to two factors:

  1. The proliferation of ad inventory allows brands to buy less valuable advertising real estate for less money.
  2. Ever-available bloggers (blamelessly) write competitive content free of advertising, almost always without pay.

Available advertising real estate is marketed chiefly by advertising networks. Typically, these ad networks don’t share enough of the analytics with publishers so that they can understand which of its pages are the most valuable to their advertising partners.

The fact that publishers usually don’t make the effort to track data about their sites’ visitors in a reliable format that can be published back to the buyer, represents a sort of surrender to the ad network. It trivializes the value of the publisher, and ultimately drives them out of business altogether.

Surrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis

Publishers need to take the value of analytics more seriously as analytics can help them optimize content, and at some point enables them to establish premiums currently not supported by ad network technology.

Perhaps as daunting is the rise of the ad blocker; this technology allows users to read content while seeing few to no ads at all. Though it’s not clear that the universe of ad-block users will continue to expand, it certainly hurts even at a small percentage of overall users.

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Clearly users have become tired of the poor quality of ads and their ubiquity. Many sites today consist of a single column of content and two or more of advertising. But this too is rooted in market trends that arguably are driven by advertising networks.

Ad networks trivialize the value of any particular content, which forces publishers to give over more visual space to advertisement. In turn, this glut of ad space drives the price down even further.

Additionally, ad networks use a form of analytics which leads to a style of targeted advertising that comes across as annoying, awry, or even creepy to too many readers.

Recently, I ordered service for a home appliance from a major retailer. The service was performed satisfactorily, but I’ve been seeing ads for service from this retailer ever since.

Who wrote the algorithm that couldn’t figure out that I had already ordered the service online and now no longer need it?

Digital analytics can save publishers from this continuing downward spiral.

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Publishers would benefit greatly simply from knowing more details about its traffic – where it comes from, what pages are most popular, what pages drive the most ad clicks, and what the quality of engagement is.

After being armed with this information, perhaps digital publishers could wrest control of its own fate away from the ad network and establish a real dialogue with its intended audience.

Of course ad networks publish data to the publisher, but it’s often arcane and not respected as entirely factual (whether it is factual or not is not mine to decide). Data blindness about what ads are on the site and what the metrics are regarding interaction with those ads continue to bedevil the publisher, even as they hope to survive digitally.

Serious efforts at digital analytics can provide visibility and perhaps a way forward, if the publisher is committed to survival.

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