For Digital Publishing to Survive, It’s Audience or Bust

Digital Publishers NEED Digital Marketers

“Here’s a thought — if a digital publisher posts the ‘story of the century’ and no one reads it, does it matter?” There’s a pause as we mull over the question, posed by Dave Quilty, Content Director at Kaleidico Digital Marketing.

So, like a tree falling in the forest, I replied. “What does a piece of content have to do with that, exactly?” I said, realizing this was going to go deeper than a typical content meeting.

“Well sure, a tree still falls even if we’re not around to hear it. But it sure doesn’t matter to us if we’re not there,” Dave explained. “We don’t know about it. It’s the same with digital content that doesn’t get read, shared, or talked about.”

It certainly wouldn’t be the story of the century, I said. It’d be dead in the water.

“Right, if digital publishers don’t start hiring and treating themselves like digital businesses, they’re going to literally die out,” added Mike Carroll, Chief Strategy Officer at Kaleidico.

Why Readers, Revenue, and Value Matter

The truth is, we all agreed, a story needs an audience if it’s to be the story of the century — or even the story of the week. If you’re a digital publisher — that is, a business that exists solely to publish content — news, essays, poetry, whatever — you need an audience. You also need positive revenue. Return on your investment.

“More than ad revenue,” qualified Mike. “Digital newspapers need to figure out that a big part of the value of their business is in the data they collect and the users they acquire.”

So that’s why publishers need digital marketers, I said. We do the data crunching and worry about the user acquisition.

“Exactly,” said Dave. “It’s such a crowded space; there’s so much on the internet. If you can’t make yourself stand out… It’s not just about making ad dollars, in other words.”

“You still have to do good digital marketing, whether you’re starting out or are a big name brand. There’s no shortage of big companies that had failed over the years when something better came along,” continued Dave.

What Has to Happen to Succeed in Publishing

So what do digital publishers need to do, I wondered out loud.

“You need people like us to help you succeed,” offered Dave.

Mike chimed in, noting that digital marketers can come at things from another angle. “When marketers work with publishers, our focus then becomes less about their content and more about user acquisition, audience nurturing, and monetizing,” he explained.

Digital publishing remains a difficult enterprise, but not as difficult as print. While digital-only outfits struggle with scaling and audience acquisition, legacy publishers are having a harder time contorting old business models to fit into a new digital world.

A publishing revenue mainstay, print ad revenues in the U.S. are projected to fall to $16.4 billion this year. Down from $19.14 billion in 2012. On the other hand, digital content revenue is on the upswing. It’s predicted to reach $1.4 billion by next year, up five times over revenue in 2012.

Meanwhile, new technological directions are reshaping the whole publishing industry. Mobile traffic continues to eclipse desktop traffic. A bigger percentage of consumers want tablet versions of magazine content, and apps have seen huge growth over the last few years. Subscription models, multimedia, gamification, and new advertising and acquisition models offer more opportunities. The question is how to best take advantage of them.

How and Why an Agency Is the Right Way to Go

For all those publishers out there, I asked, how do they ramp up their digital marketing? What’s the best way to go about it?

We note that digital marketers can obviously be found in-house as well as in agencies. Dave and Mike are unified, arguing for the agency approach.

“I tell people about two advantages of working with agencies,” outlines Mike. “One is that agencies are engaged in active learning. We learn a lot — from a sort of 30,000-foot view — over lots of different verticals. We leverage that info and can quickly iterate based on what we’ve learned.”

“Two,” he continued, “there’s the fact that resources for a marketing department are often stretched in different directions.” Mike goes on to detail what’s a common plight of in-house creatives — where departments become a “one-stop shop” for a menagerie of projects of varying importance and scope.

“Often our role involves consulting work,” adds Dave. “Part of the job is teaching businesses that content requires strategy and vice versa.”

“One of the conundrums of this business is that it takes the right resources to make good content that gets consumed,” qualifies Mike. “Part of those resources is paying attention to strategy.”

Are you a digital publisher who wants to talk strategy, user acquisition, and revenue growth? Call us at 313-338-9515 or email hello@kaleidico.com to learn how our full-service digital agency can help.