Insights on Industry Trends and Publisher Opportunities
Online publishers have a difficult job. Not only do they need to manage their business strategy and day-to-day operations, they also have to keep track of new developments in an ever-evolving field — technology innovations, industry trends, and market conditions.
To make that task a little easier — and help publishers stay ahead of the curve — we sat down with Sovrn CTO Demetrius Comes, to get his insights on the challenges and opportunities in today’s publishing industry. Demetrius brings a unique perspective to his role with Sovrn, after spending seven years with leading web hosting provider GoDaddy and 15 years in the online gaming industry.
Following is a quick recap of the key takeaways from our conversation.
Q: As a relative newcomer to online publishing and ad tech, what’s your take on the state of the industry?
A: The thing that’s really interesting about this industry — and what drew me here in the first place — is that it’s really built to help small businesses grow and succeed. For a small publisher trying to build an audience and generate revenue, the key is more eyeballs. And there are real costs to doing that, so publishers need a way to make money in exchange for the free content they’re providing. The way I think about it, that’s the “contract” of the open web.
The exciting thing about this industry is the sheer volume of opportunities it provides. It’s not just a single ad tech product. We’re providing complete solutions to help small businesses (and even mid- to large-sized businesses) earn revenue in lots of different ways—today, advertising and commerce, of course, but we are exploring areas like content marketing and email distribution. Each element can be layered together to create a more complete strategy. And it goes beyond pure revenue generation. For the content creators who are out there fulfilling their own passion, we can provide data to help them understand who’s coming to their site and what they’re interested in, as well as tools to help optimize the on-site experience.
Q: Are there lessons from your previous experience that can be applied in our industry?
A: There is actually a surprising amount of crossover between the gaming industry and online publishing, especially from a technical perspective. Three things in particular stand out to me.
First, there’s the evolution of graphics in the gaming industry that eventually spawned the metaverse. As the gaming industry matured, it required better and better graphics to create these alternate universes with millions of people playing simultaneously (for example, in games like Second Life and World of Warcraft). That really paved the way for the metaverse that’s taking shape today, where even non-gamers can interact in a virtual space, travel to different places, and even shop for products — all supported by hyper-realistic graphics. For publishers, the implications of the metaverse are still unfolding, but I think it will definitely offer some new opportunities to monetize as tactics like affiliate marketing and programmatic advertising make their way into the virtual world.
The second lesson I see is also related to those massive multiplayer games. In the gaming industry, we had to develop large, distributed systems on the back end, to handle millions of users all playing a game simultaneously. Those systems had to scale seamlessly because even the smallest outage was a big problem. A small to mid-sized publisher can face those same kinds of challenges. If you want to grow, you need the capacity to handle the constant volume of traffic without going down — because any type of outage is going to cost you revenue opportunities. You need the ability to scale, because down the line, you may want to expand beyond what you’re doing today. So it’s really important for publishers to think about their technology partners and the capabilities they provide, both now and in the future.
Third, in both the gaming industry and the publishing industry, being nimble and flexible is absolutely critical. There’s a constant need to keep moving forward, stay on top of technology, and keep your team sharp. For example, we’ve just learned that the date for cookie depreciation has been pushed back to 2024. Unfortunately, a lot of publishers are just sitting back and doing nothing — and that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Take this extra time as an opportunity to experiment. Set up tests and see what kind of results you can get without cookie data. Run those experiments now, so you have a solid, battle-tested plan that can be implemented when cookies do eventually go away. And of course that advice applies to more than just cookies. Try new things. Experiment. Analyze your results and learn from them. Don’t get complacent.
Q: From your perspective, what are the top things publishers should be thinking about today, in order to get out in front of industry changes and plan for future opportunities?
A: To me, getting ready for the future really boils down to data. But we can think about that in a few different ways:
- Across every industry, efficiency is becoming more and more important. As a publisher, efficiency means serving the right ad to the right customer at the right time. But doing that requires huge amounts of data, along with the capabilities to analyze that data. So you should be looking for a partner with machine learning-powered functionality baked into their technology, so they can deliver the insights you need to create a better ad experience.
- To build on that point, today’s publishing industry collects data on a scale that’s almost unfathomable. Individual companies are constantly working to improve their machine learning capabilities and develop better machine learning models to put that data to work for publishers, but it’s not enough. As an industry, we need to work together to develop more efficient machine learning models to process these massive amounts of data, because the volume of data will only continue to grow exponentially in the years to come.
- And finally, I recommend doubling down on analytics and making the effort to uncover insights on both sides of the equation, so you can squeeze every drop from your monetization opportunities. Understand not only what’s bringing readers to your site and why they’re clicking on your ads, but also what’s working (or not) on the advertiser side: why you’re winning bids, why you’re losing bids, where your price floor should be, etc. In other words, you should increase the size of your funnel and make sure you’re earning as much revenue as possible on every opportunity.
For more insights to help grow your business on the open web, visit the Sovrn blog. You can also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about our comprehensive suite of publisher solutions for commerce, advertising, and data.