Article

Do online publishers need a change of mindset?

Amid a time when the publishing industry is facing challenges from all quarters, including declining readership, fragmented loyalty and flailing revenue streams, the New York Times was sending a clear message that it could produce outstanding content for the digital age.


Original Article by Fraser Robinson, founder and CEO of Taggstar.com

 

At the end of last year, the New York Times delivered one hell of a punch to the online publishing industry, with its multimedia extravaganza “Snow Fall”.

 

It was heralded a “journalistic triumph” which only a media giant could be capable of producing. Produced on a grand scale and requiring a huge investment of resources, “Snow Fall” is an epic piece of online journalism, as well as a highly visual and interactive feast of content. It really is worth looking at if you haven’t already. Amid a time when the publishing industry is facing challenges from all quarters, including declining readership, fragmented loyalty and flailing revenue streams, the New York Times was sending a clear message that it could produce outstanding content for the digital age.

 

But is this really the future for online publishing? In order for traditional publishers to compete with the quick-fire, high-volume, and often high-quality content of blogs and leaner social news sites, surely a project which takes six months to produce with a team of 11 staff is not replicable on any great scale, even by the likes of the New York Times.

 

I wonder if the time has come for the larger online publishers to stop trying to compete with each other, and instead find a better way of working together?


Publishers are undoubtedly worried about preserving authorship of their content, but actually, do they need to be? In a recent interview with Mashable, Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify, claimed authors will always hold the clout, saying “the world does belong to creators”. But he went on to add that “curators [also] play an important role, especially as we’re living in this age of information overload, to help find what people should be reading and care about. They are the tastemakers in some way too.”

 

Readers currently face a content deluge online, and many turn to aggregators or news readers as a way to filter through the mass of it and discover what they’re looking for and interested in. Search-based web browsing is no longer as popular as it used to be, particularly when it comes to content consumption. But what if publishers stepped in as content curators too, helping their readers to discover content of interest on a range of high-quality sites, as well as their own?


To offer a comparative analogy, during my time at Lastminute.com we took the bold step of including Google AdSense in our flights search results pages. We came to the conclusion that our customers would be running price comparison searches anyway, so why not provide them with the tools and functionality to do it via Lastminute.com? It proved to be a very successful strategy (which other travel sites have since followed) which resulted in the creation of a new revenue stream for us. Additionally, we found it really helped to build consumer trust, as we were being transparent and helpful in offering links to our competitors. In the digital space, it really pays to embrace growing trends in user behaviour, instead of trying to fight against them.

 

Image galleries particularly offer a huge amount of untapped potential for online publishers, in the drive towards them becoming content curators. Over the past year there’s already been an immense shift in the way that publishers are using images to offer a journey of content discovery to the reader, with the rise of infinite scrolling sites taking the format of Pinterest, and sites such as Femail which use images very effectively to keep the reader onsite for longer. Sitting often below the main article or fold, image galleries or image carousels provide publishers with an opportunity to link to high quality third-party content, which readers will be interested in. It offers an engaging, undisruptive reader experience, while opening up a new revenue stream for the publisher, and a new way for other publishers to gain traffic to their content. Surely this is a much needed, win-win situation?

There’s been so much research done to show that readers respond best to visual information, but to date, few publishers have explored the monetisation and traffic opportunities that exist within their image galleries. According to 3M Corporation, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. A new study conducted by ROI research found that users are 44% more likely to engage with content if an image is involved.

 

For publishers desperately seeking new sources of traffic, visually signposting their content on other publisher’s sites could prove the affordable solution they’ve been looking for. All it requires is a mindset change, which in some places is already beginning to happen. Sometimes it really pays to challenge existing business models, turn them on their heads and do what previously would never have been thought possible.

 

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