Tough Choices Ahead for the Publishing Industry


publishers tough choices

How Outbrain Is Walking Away from Publisher Deals to Put the Emphasis Back on Audience

There’s an undeniable sea change that has taken place in the way audiences consume content across the web over the past 5 years. The “Duopoly” (Facebook and Google) have become the gateway of 50% of the world’s internet users content consumption, with 70% of American adults alone getting their news from social media.

Audiences have been reduced to nothing but user traffic on these platforms to get more page views and clicks. It’s working for them-eMarketer forecasts that in 2019 Google and Facebook will earn 60% of global digital advertising revenues.

It’s not working for the people that are left sifting through an endless feed of poor-quality content, fake news and sensational headlines to find the trusted publishers they know and rely on.  Journalism, once a prestige industry, has been commoditized.

Advertisers, meanwhile, are left beholden to Google and Facebook for help in capturing the attention of this audience, despite the often spotty records as brand-safe destinations for image-conscious marketers.

To combat all of this, some publishers have turned to their technology partners, particularly in the native space, and put pressure to squeeze every possible dollar out of their contracts to offset the revenue lost to the Duopoly.

But their strategy is wrong.

The way publishers win in this environment is to de-commoditize the news and re-focus their strategy around audience loyalty and trust. Bring back quality audiences, not traffic, and create the brand safe destinations that advertisers want as part of their media mix and audiences that value your brand. You do that and you win.

Here’s How Publishers Will Succeed, Consumers Become Brand Loyal & Journalism Prevails

The technology to make this all happen exists today. And successful publishers, from stalwarts like CNN to new entrants like Ranker, drive loyal audiences by delivering on the same three experiences:

  1. They offer quality content in an enjoyable format that’s customized to the person’s consumption habits.
  2. They guide audiences through their research, whether in ongoing interests like politics and entertainment; or in discovering information with near-term impact  —from a medical condition to an upcoming vacation spot.
  3. They consistently deliver unexpected content—delighting audiences with new knowledge, or a fresh perspective.

Publishers have some major advantages that set them up to succeed. They have quality content—an asset that audiences will always crave. Second, they may know their audience better than anyone else. They can follow which pages audiences visit across their owned and operated sites, for instance; and can spot patterns of what readers with similar interests have clicked on as well—allowing for better recommendations. Audiences don’t share everything they read on a Facebook post or even in a search query, and that is a level of visibility that is a strategic advantage to publishers and advertisers trying to get their business discovered.

Tough Choices Ahead

Re-setting priorities for the way publishers are operating calls for compromise, and tough choices, on the part of all players. At my own company, we’ve focused in the past on providing publishers with those near-term revenue wins; but we’ve come to realize that this focus is becoming less helpful to them as digital publishing matures.

This is a change in priorities that’s meant, among other things, that we’ve had to part ways from publishers who push for fast revenues that come at the expense of quality, driving audience loyalty and long-term success. It’s a sacrifice we and our like-minded partners focused on the long-term health of their businesses appreciate.

My company has become exceedingly profitable because of it; and it’s a vision I invite everyone in the publishing ecosystem—audiences, advertisers, publishers and technology partners alike—to commit to.


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