There are no two ways about it — natively digital companies including Facebook, Amazon and Google have disrupted traditional journalism and the news media. In doing so, many digital natives carved out lucrative positions for themselves as intermediaries who exploited both their media relationships and their unlimited access to Big Data. Print publishers needed their help in establishing themselves online, but it came at a big cost.
That’s good news for the digital natives. But not so good for publishers, who watched as revenue, audience and subscriber numbers dwindled. To make matters worse, publishers were compelled to generate the first-rate content audiences had traditionally turned to media outlets for, even as their finances took a major hit.
Now the cat’s out of the bag. Publishers understand that “digital upstarts” are actually competitors that have surpassed their share of revenue and audience take. And now it’s time to act. When popular social media platform and powerful Big Data giant Facebook introduced Facebook Paper, it was a real wake-up call for publishers. This very cool app aggregates news from hard-working news publishers, without paying them a penny. You read that correctly: Facebook Paper displays publishers’ content in a Facebook environment and keeps the audience within its app. So Facebook not only “steals” publishers’ content, they grab and hold their audience too.
One of the reasons Facebook made this move is described in a 2013 Poynter article: “Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) realized that he had a desktop company in a mobile world.” Facebook moved decisively toward rebuilding its mobile presence from scratch and to “create the conditions and the culture for the company to figure it out before it was too late.”
The launch of the Facebook Paper news curation app has accelerated the pace of the game, and should give publishers the push they need to take competitive action. Most reviews praise Paper for its usability and its “habit-forming” addictiveness, which is significant because Facebook already had 556 million daily users on mobile only in Q4 of 2013. A Convince and Convert article on Paper’s disruptive potential asserts: “Paper is the manifestation of that move toward quality content, and ridding the stream of memes coincidentally frees up more real estate for promoted posts from advertisers.”
Media companies and publishers need to take a page from Facebook and other fast-moving digital properties. These digital entities are giving readers what they want while using what they know about users to “make a killing” with ads. Publishers who were virtually sidelined by these digital powerhouse companies can now get back in the game by adopting a Zuckerberg move: creating the right conditions and culture.
Publishers also must recognize that, in a marketplace in which Facebook, Google, Twitter and others control upwards of 70 percent of mobile ad revenue, publishers are down – but not to be counted out. It is not too late for publishers to regain control of their own Big Data stores, which can be leveraged to take back their ads, their revenue and ultimately their audiences. They also have to think like Zuckerberg – thinking “mobile first,” and analyze their data and user behaviors across devices.
The data that publishers inadvertently let slip through their fingers in the nascent part of the digital era is rich with insights that can help to segment and target audiences to not just recapture lost ad revenue, but also to command higher ad prices with better targeting.
Getting better control of their data also helps publishers regain control of content. The data gathered from the user activities on any online device offers information about how content is being consumed, what is popular – and can help to give these recaptured audiences precisely the content they are looking for. Not only can publishers deliver sought-after content directly, they can take back control of their own hard work by not feeding content to Facebook and other aggregators. Publishers don’t have to have deep technical skills to simply remove competitor scripts from their own sites completely – or at least limit scripts so they only share data when a user actually “Likes” or “Shares”
Another resource comes from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which developed a free tool designed to make it easier for publishers to separate themselves from third-parties. The Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP) developed by the publishers’ group is a global permission tool that allows publishers to maintain full control of how and by whom their online content is exploited.
Meanwhile, with apps like Facebook Paper and another common news aggregator, Flipboard, there is seamless activity and a one-stop-shop for users. But the companies behind them — at least for now — lack publishers’ unique edge as original content creators, which the data can help to fine-tune at a granular level. This is publishers’ big opportunity not just to take back what they have lost, but also to regain their rightful role as content and editorial leaders. Publishers well know that they are beyond the days when brand, name recognition and clout were enough for them to get by. Publishers have a built-in differentiator in their ownership of access to data and editorial assets.
With the competitive landscape shifting almost daily, there is no better time for publishers to reassert their leadership and take back control of their own futures to ensure that their content – editorial and advertising – is reaching the right readers at the right time.
John M. Lervik is the CEO of Cxense and is in charge of the strategic direction of the company. His vision is to redefine how companies serve their customers, by providing an online services platform which empowers businesses globally to better understand, target, and interact with their users.