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Data and revenue diversification dominate publisher strategies 

March 18, 2022 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

Publishers continue to remain highly focused on revenue diversification and the value of first party data according to new research from the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), a UK industry body that represents digital publishing companies. The AOP undertook its Digital Publishing: Meeting the Future survey to provide “a snapshot of how digital publishing companies across the UK are continuing to respond to the challenge to change.” The research offers a look at publishers’ business priorities and the future-readiness of the media industry.   

The AOP carried out its survey between January 5 and February 9 of 2022. Of the 111 responses, 83% were from publishers and 17% from organizations providing solutions to the publishing sector. 

Diversifying revenue streams  

Across all types of publishers (B2B, B2C, or a combination), respondents said that their highest priority is developing new revenue streams through product innovation. Ensuring data privacy compliance and transparency ranked second. 

The AOP’s publisher respondents ranked opportunities for revenue growth over the next three years. More than half (55%) feel that subscriptions are the big revenue opportunity right now, with lead generation-based revenues ranking second (33%). The report concludes that these findings mean that publishers are highly focused on building direct relationships with audiences and leveraging their first party data. 

Audio and ecommerce tied for third (31%) in terms of revenue priorities, which points to continued revenue-model innovation. The research finds that both B2B and B2C publishers agreed that subscriptions have the most potential for growth. However, publishers that target both B2B and consumer audiences saw ecommerce as the most promising revenue generator. 

Data dominates  

While publisher concerns about ensuring privacy and providing transparency rank high, they clearly know the value of their first party data and seek to maximize its use. According to the report, publishers are focused on building the right ecosystem of commercial, data, and tech partnerships.  

In the shadow of cookie deprecation, some publishers are considering collaborating on data initiatives. AOP found that, while 12% of publisher respondents are unsure of their next moves and 12% do not expect to collaborate, many publishers are either already collaborating (20%), are discussing collaborating (16%),  or are open to the possibility of collaboration (40%).  

The majority (75%) of publishers said that they are working to ensure that audience data informs everything they do and that they are investing in tools to help achieve this. Despite the emphasis on data, however, only 17% of publishers said that all their teams are aligned internally around their audience data. Half of the solutions provider respondents suggest that, while publishers understand being joined up internally around audience data is important, many don’t yet have a strategy in place to achieve their goals. 

Workforce and workplace concerns 

Interestingly, recruiting and retaining talent, and ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace, are rated higher (tying for third place with “developing new first party data strategies”) than the tech-based challenges you might expect the digital publishing sector to be focused on.   

Most respondents (75%) report that “supporting and retaining current employees” is their top priority when it comes to recruitment and workforce development. This was followed by adapting the publisher’s offering to appeal to new talent entering the industry.  

Putting in place recruitment processes that eliminate bias and support the development of a more diverse workforce is ranked third here. However, when asked how they would describe their organization’s diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) strategy, respondents suggest confidence in their progress on this challenge. Just over half (51%) believe they have made good progress with areas for continued improvement, and 24% believe they have an effective DE&I strategy. Only 5% of respondents don’t believe they have a clear strategy on DE&I. 

As Covid-19 restrictions are being eased in the UK and elsewhere, publishers are evaluating their working environments and plans to return to offices. This survey found that 37% of respondents say their ideal working pattern would be to work from the office two days a week and 24% would be happy to come in for the occasional key meeting, but primarily work from home.  

Nearly a third (30%) of respondents expect their employers to be fully flexible and happy for them to choose to work as they wish. However, 66% believe they will be asked to work at least a few days in the office each week. 

Clearly, the past couple of years have seen trends like ecommerce intensify and placed increased pressure on publishers to innovate. That innovation has, unsurprisingly, focused on product and revenue. However, it has also required publishers to reexamine workplace culture, recruiting, and retention strategies. The AOP’s survey finds that digital publishing companies that understand the bigger picture challenges and have identified many opportunities. However, it appears that they may still be working through the best tactics and strategies to provide the requisite competitive advantage moving forward.  

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