2020 was the year of great acceleration. The entire publishing industry found itself forced to react, and quickly, to issues that were suddenly pushed to the forefront: how can we ensure publishers drive value from their readership? How can they pass that value on to advertisers and merchants? And how can we ensure that publishers aren’t overly dependent on advertising as their sole revenue stream?
None of these are new topics. But the economic and industry changes brought on by the Coronavirus made all of them more immediately urgent. And while we’ll be spending this year exploring in-depth answers to all of these questions, here’s our bird’s-eye view of the top 3 publisher issues for you to keep top-of-mind in 2021.
Currently, there is no “cure all” solution for the absence of third-party cookies. There are, however, several initiatives aimed at limiting any negative impacts that could be inflicted upon the ad tech ecosystem. These initiatives are open to any publisher to join, and are currently the best way to understand the industry landscape, hear from other publishers, and follow the development of best practices as they emerge. They’re all slightly different, so here’s how each of these groups is aiming to achieve identity resolution.
- IAB Tech Lab’s Project Rearc is focused on achieving addressability through a universal identifier, an authentication solution, and clear-cut consumer privacy preferences
- The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) proposes standardized targeting through browser-based technologies, as proposed and developed by Google’s Privacy Sandbox and members of the ‘Improving Web Advertising Business Group’ of the W3C
- Other Universal Identifiers (UIDs), of which there are many. A UID is a shared and persistent ID that recognizes individual readers across different platforms, many of which are driven by encrypted and/or hashed emails (e.g. LiveRamp’s IdentityLink and Unified ID 2.0)
Revenue diversification: eCommerce
The drop in ad spend that followed the COVID-19 outbreak meant that publishers suddenly found themselves scrambling for additional streams of revenue. Our data showed just how effective revenue diversification is at protecting publishers from economic shifts. Over the past year we’ve seen publishers leverage a number of strategies focused on both building and diversifying their revenue streams. Subscriptions, memberships, podcasts and paywalls have all been duly tested and found to be—depending on the publisher—effective.
One of the biggest global shifts over the course of 2020 was the sheer volume of purchasing behavior that moved online, even as COVID-19 restrictions relaxed. Of course, that increased traffic had merchant ramifications: for all intents and purposes, Amazon has completely dropped affiliate commissions, while Walmart temporarily cut their rates to zero. Similar shifts often happen seasonally, but publishers who diversify their merchants are in a better place to succeed. What’s clear is that eCommerce isn’t going anywhere, and a solid commerce strategy will be key to the continued success of publishers of all sizes.
First-Party Audience Data
For years, ad tech has given third-party data top priority. The primary focus has been to predict intent by following readers/audiences from site to site, mostly without their knowledge. First-party data, on the other hand, places privacy and transparency at the forefront, as it can only be collected by the site itself and not by any outside party. Both privacy and transparency have been regular fixtures in the media landscape, and the likeliness of continued tech regulation and privacy legislation in the US and elsewhere makes first-party data all the more important.
Once third-party cookies are dropped on the Chrome browser, first-party data may well become the new currency of web advertising. All publishers—no matter the size—have the ability to extract it from their readers. However, there is no standard through which to pass these data segments. This shift from third- to first-party data puts publishers in a position to do what they do best and get rewarded for doing it well. By creating unique and engaging online experiences, publishers build trusted relationships with niche audiences that are willing to share their information in exchange for quality content.