What is the future of the Press ?
What future monetization models for Media groups ? What solutions for the printed press ?

After dozens of interviews with Press leaders, and 50+ years of combined technical experience as entrepreneurs, the Z Digital Agency Team came up with some massive trends shaping the future of the press, as well as a series of potential solutions for Media groups.

In reaction to the Fake News movement

Thanks to its “Fake News” Twitter guerilla, the Drumpf administration re-launched some newspaper subscriptions like the New York Times. But one graph could summarize the entire crisis of 2016:

The Future of Press - Z digital Agency

Yes, during the last part of the 2016 US election, the Facebook engagement for Fake News took over the engagement for the top 20 stories from traditional media covering this event.

According to a recent study from Forrester, people trust search engines more than traditional media as information sources.

“A recent survey showed that users spent on average 50 minutes per day for scrolling on Facebook’s platforms in comparison to 5 minutes they spent for reading the newspaper,” Juliane Leopold

We have seen two main trends over the past decade:

  • The GAFA are controlling more and more traffic to Press websites (>50% since 2014)
  • The classic revenue streams for Press have been drained: classifieds (moved to specialized websites) and advertising (gone to cheaper and more traceable traffic sources, mainly controlled by the GAFA)
What new value added for the press ?
  1. Fact-checking: “If information is not reliable and verifiable, it is at best useless and at worst dangerous,” newspaper publisher Ken Waddell
  2. Investigative journalism: how to bring value in a world of automation with AI and digital archives?
  3. Building authority against the tyranny of social media engagement: the need for new brand metrics
  4. Building an ecosystem with multiple points of view: thanks to technology and user interface (more below)
  5. Counterpower: no comment.
Journalists are not vouching for the truth
“In many ways the British press is industrialised confirmation bias. They ensure their journalism confirms their readers’ political bias. “Echo chambers” aren’t new or confined to social media – they have been the business model for the tabloid press for decades.” BBC’s media editor, Amol Rajan.
Journalists know how to dig and cross-reference sources, not based on their social media engagement, but on their real value. Until AI does the same, journalists will have a real value added.
On the other end cultural cognition, a well-known phenomenon for psychologists and sociologists, is key to bringing deeper analysis to press consumers. In the wake of Fake News, the understanding and debunking of identity-related point of views has never been so relevant.
Artificial Intelligence will help bringing the cultural cognition analysis to an industrial scale for press groups, while the social media giants will provide a bigger and bigger bubble effect to their users. This may be the long-term advantage of press groups over the Silicon Valley giants.
However there is another Press trend:
“As big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular” James Surowiecki.
Press audience and content consumption has never been so high, but traditional models have all come to an end. Indeed what was paid 10 years ago is now free. What is paid today will be free tomorrow.
But there is light for the Press with the rise of content marketing, the number one online growth strategy. And who is better at this than journalists?
The press reaction to silicon valley giants
Let’s start with a deeper analysis of the situation. As Tony Haile said:
“There are two routes for publishers:
  • accept that they are in the advertising business but the point of control has shifted to platforms and thus the point where margins accrue has also shifted. In that case, publishers need to jettison as many of their costs as possible and assume the mentality and framework of a low-cost/low-margin scale provider.
  • if they decide they want margin more than scale, they need to plan for a non-advertising future with multiple revenue streams, not just the access model. The total revenue might be smaller but the margin larger.

The challenge for the publishers is, in general, an unwillingness to make a hard decision. They end up sitting in the middle trying to optimize for both, which means optimizing for neither.”

Answer #1: Build a common advertising platform for a consortium of Press groups
A lot of Media groups built common advertising platforms with several goals:
  • Offer global tracking to advertisers, across several platforms
  • Offer tailored services depending on advertisers’ product positioning
  • Offer full advertising solutions for advertisers’ campaign, as an alternative to the GAFA

This move was necessary, but not sufficient.

The technology should be at the center of their strategy, to really compete with the GAFA. Indeed Media groups advantage lies in their ability to focus on specific needs, not the entire advertising industry. We will detail some technological moves further below.

Answer #2: Go local

Local Newspapers have been very resilient to the Media crisis. History already taught us a lesson with the story of the Tenby Observer in 1978.

According to a 2016 study from the Advertising Association, digital ad spend in local media is forecast to grow faster than any other media, except video (another interesting move of vertical integration to be detailed further below).

Local newspapers have a responsibility: give local communities a voice and representation.

More than 60% of a household budget is still spent in an area less than 20 km far from home. Local classifieds and local advertising solutions are still to grow. Google Local Business solutions are not currently replacing other advertising solutions. Additionally, the ever-increasing cost per click of Adwords campaigns (due to growing competition, but also due to most Adwords budgets being spent on broad keywords) is a good reason for advertisers to prefer local media solutions, both for branding and traffic goals.

To put it in a nutshell, media groups have started taking some risks. As Will Lewis, chief executive of Dow Jones recommended: “invest in innovation, harness technology rather than be led by it, get ever closer to customers, diversify revenue streams, attract the best talent you can and – crucially – reinforce journalism’s civic role: holding the powerful to account through the power of great storytelling.”

New monetization solutions for the Press
1. The donation model

Like Wikipedia, several Newspapers have tapped into their audience to fill empty pockets, and face their overheads. It is actually a great way to measure their impact and fund the launch of new strategies. However, it is not a sustainable stream of revenues. Some niche newspaper were even created thanks to crowdfunding campaigns, exactly like for startups, aiming at a specific need and audience.

This model requires a very light and flexible team, to keep the cost at their minimum, but also a niche and need-based model.

2. The Paywall model
Most Press groups are currently using this solution to restrict the access to some articles or after a certain number of articles read, offering their audience to subscribe or make a micro-payment for the specific article.
Beyond this classic model, two innovations are interesting:
  • Like e-book websites, some media websites offer a teaser of the key learnings in this article
  • Some websites are currently offering two micro-payments choices: monetary or watch a 15 seconds advert. An interesting model to really target the right audience for advertisers (depending on the article topic) and guarantee a meaningful experience for the reader, making the advert more impactful.
3. Data-based advertising
The century-old model for Media group hasn’t yet said its last words. This quote is key to understand advertising for the Press:

“Nobody hates ads, but everybody hates irrelevance.”

Media groups have understood that if you depend on the GAFA for both your traffic and your advertising placements, you are doomed to fail. Therefore they have built their own advertising placement solutions on the one hand, and have relied on related contents promotion solutions, like Outbrain, on the other.
However, another key factor is at the heart of the success of the GAFA: Data.
Press groups are sitting on large amounts of data, but have not yet harnessed the full potential of them. Here are some ways currently being tested:
  • Create a Single Sign On (SSO) across platforms, within one or several media groups, to better track users
  • Use Artificial Intelligence to better map the user profiles and interests, by filling the holes in current data sets with algorithmic predictions.
  • Create multiple buyer personas by entering the e-commerce market, as affiliates or as deals providers (classic), but also as real e-commerce for digital contents (books, courses, etc…). Whether these e-commerce are successful or not, they will allow media groups to gather larger data sets and create qualified client persona for their advertisers.
4. Haute-couture advertising

Who is better at telling daily stories than journalists? Today’s brand management is all about storytelling across multiple touch-points.

Some media groups started offering tailored storytelling and series of multi-angles promotions. Several formats and platforms are therefore required to operate such campaigns for luxury brands, product launches, etc.

On the format first. Audio, video, interviews, redacted contents and photography based storytelling are the minimum requirements for a press group to perform at those Haute-Couture capsules. Remote workers, freelancers or partner agencies are key to succeeding at creating the ecosystem, while maintaining low overheads.

On the platforms now. When launching an advertising campaign, premium brands require multiple touch points, all highly segmented. It requires high-quality data set (see it as a personal invitation to a haute-couture catwalk event for instance). It also requires several platforms, from buzz to very niche audiences.

Some media groups like Axel Springer, for instance, got it right by purchasing very specific audiences, to answer its advertisers target groups. Last but not least it requires a succession of touch points. Press groups will have to map their customers’ journey across platforms (press websites and even printed newspapers) to allow better retargeting. On average a client purchases after 6 interactions with the ads.

It also goes without saying that Media groups should vertically integrate more of the value chain, from ideation, story-boarding to edition, publishing and revenue management.

A good example is Canal +, the french private TV channel, which purchased Studio Bagel, a creative agency for short stories formats that was initially broadcasting on its own web channels.

Actionable advertising inside contents and videos

As printed press went digital, text is being replaced by video (and faster than we think). Engagement rates for videos are through the roof, and production rates have dramatically decreased.

The GAFA are investing heavily in video advertising, but they are building automated systems, a one size fits all solution. On the other hand press groups (still) have editing capabilities. Human understanding of context is still far beyond current commercial AI applications. Therefore media groups have the ability:

  • To insert advertising at the right place and the right moment. It requires some investment in journalists and editors training.
  • To design and capture more videos, while offering innovative and tailored ad placements to their advertisers, with the very same tracking capabilities as the GAFA. Some startups like Adways, for instance, created very powerful editing tools to bring advertising interactivity to videos, natively.
  • To invest in programmatic technologies that can “augment” its unique human resources capabilities (for journalists and editors to bring tailored services at an industrial scale).

Before we move to the Future of Media, last and most interesting part, a quick reminder that Z Digital Agency is a 40 entrepreneurs and CEOs network in Europe, doing consulting on digital challenges, with a donation based business model.
Now that you know who we are, have a nice reading  😉

The future of Media
Press as an experience
Reading the printed press at Sunday’s breakfast was considered an experience in many households. Today’s fast news reading is basic consumption. However, some examples in other industries could hint at future winning strategies for Media groups.
Starbucks for instance was never intended as a simple Italian style coffeeshop, but as a customer experience. If I mention Starbucks you can picture the product, the service, the look and feel of the location, the same way as anybody else in any country.
Now imagine if The Guardian is mentioned, you can envision the type of content, the values and maybe the political views, but not an overall Sunday experience.
Thinking about a media group as an experience, across multiple platforms and along the main events in the world, shaping your readers vision of life, is a strong value-added that can answer the threats on traffic loss and low margins. Starbucks is 3 times more expensive than an Italian espresso
It would require Single Sign On (SSO) across all websites and services of a media group.
It would require building a coherent experience across several user cases, based on the location, the devices, the time of the day and the “intellectual” profile.
Many are predicting the end of mobile applications, this would allow media groups to avoid splitting the experience into dozens of apps, but instead integrate seamlessly across all web experiences.
Browsing experiences are also changing, allowing other formats for data visualization and complex story navigation. Press groups could be leading the research on new content visualization technologies.
Local Vs International
 Everybody belongs to a specific location, but readers are more and more mobile. Therefore the gap between local and international topics is blurring. A seamless experience would be for Media groups to offer a zoom-in / zoom-out ecosystem, based on the user habits and travel destinations.
When a topic is related to one your favourite destinations (including home), you are more willing to click. When your entire experience matches your favourite destinations, there is no reason for you to go elsewhere.
From filtering systems, data-based related articles to new curated homepage visualization designs, the technical solutions already exist.
Data privacy: the sword of the press
Perhaps the biggest edge for the Press in its fight against the GAFA. Like the advert used as paywall for users willingly choosing this option, data sharing could be set by the user, giving him more or less access, with a simple dashboard interface.
This would go a long way for Media groups reputation as transparent and user-empowering.
At the same time a user sets his experience across the publications of a media group, he can set the data-sharing options, within the same dashboard.
Data standards
If nothing is done, the GAFA will set up all future standard for data sets structures and API requirements, leaving other players with the obligation to use their technologies.
However, given the amount of data owned by Media groups, the fight is not over yet. A common industry standard should be found to simplify the data exchange and enhance user profiling across multiple press channels.
Both the quality and the structure of data sets will be key for the Press to rely upon AI and Machine Learning capabilities.
Less is more: Press groups as a quality stamped filtering system
At the beginning the higher trust placed by consumers in search engines than traditional media was mentioned. Press groups should create a common stamp, beyond their own brand or journalist ethics, to facilitate readings in a sea of Fake News.
When consumers have a too large a choice their purchase rate tends to decline. Same thing for reading, the articles should be carefully filtered and stamped, so as users to scroll faster and simpler within such a vast daily catalogue of articles, opinions and dry facts.
Media groups as learning centers
Newspapers have always been a source of education and knowledge. However, the model has shifted from a knowledge economy to a relationship economy. Such a new model could play well for Media groups by offering their users to save readings and related topics readings in their dashboard.
Gamification and puzzle effect could be used to really drive their knowledge up, around a series of topics, simply with their daily reading and carefully selected contents around the same topics (other angles or points of view for instance).
As we tested in our own companies, there is no better loyalty driver than education.
Leveraging technology to be at the center of the learning economy
With the help of artificial intelligence, Media groups could create topic-based summaries on a broad range of subjects. They have the data, the human experience of storytelling and millions of pieces of content.
A large number of search engine request are informative: from “how to” questions to “what is” questions.
Carefully crafted summaries with the very same structured data and mark-ups would soon lead the way in SEO. In addition, daily articles could constantly enrich the information to generate up-to-date content.
The new UI and UX to create are the real challenges of the Press for the 21st century.
Tailored summaries at an industrial scale is now possible to really fight back the ever-growing Fake News movements.
Leveraging technology to build a new objectivity
Maybe the most important of all. With the latest developments in language recognition from machine learning and artificial intelligence, Press groups have now the ability to offer readers a brand new experience: both sides of an argument displayed on the same screen.
Text and speech recognition technologies allow to highlight specific arguments and language patterns in a media content. For instance the pros in blue and the cons in red.
In addition fact-checking and source evaluation could become directly part of the text while hovering an element.
Being a journalist in the 21st century
Journalists don’t have the monopoly on content creation anymore. Newspapers are not the opinion leaders they used to be. However Media groups benefit for known brands, in a world where information is everywhere and at all quality levels.
Everyone pretends to be a journalist online, collective intelligence and “citizen news reporters” are forcing journalists to focus on their inherent value instead.
Journalists have to embrace the technological shift and lead it. Journalists have to put users back at the center of the experience, while:
  • writing 10x better content than the average (a famous rule for online conent marketers)
  • providing value (like the Washington Post on Reddit, with its non promotional ultra helpful presence)
  • bringing back trust and multi-angle points of view at a larger scale
  • innovating for their advertising clients
This article was aiming at better understanding the underlying dynamics shaping the future of the press, but also providing some potential solutions for media groups to fight the loss of trust, traffic and funding.
Beyond the inherent value brought by journalists, editors and publishers, media groups could perhaps think about themselves as software companies. The transformation of DHL, the logistics giant, into a software company, relying heavily on local partners for the last mile delivery, could bring some food for thought to Media groups leaders.
Whatever the path taken by Media groups leadership, the ability to test and iterate fast with multiple innovations and revenue streams will be key to their success, requiring large organizational transformations and project based teams.

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