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The Media Trends to Care about in 2018-2023

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Written by on December 13, 2017

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Martin Giesler

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Every new year, people start writing about what they predict will happen in the next year. I used to do this as well, but this time I want to do something different.

It's not that we can't predict the future (that's fairly easy), but, from a trend perspective, looking a single year ahead is a bit silly because the trends don't actually change that fast, and 2018 is going to start in just two weeks. So, if you were to predict 2018, you could simply look at the trends that you already see today.

So, instead of talking about predictions, let's talk about focus.

If you are a publisher, and you are thinking about next year, what should you focus on? What kind of new things should you start to do? What changes in your editorial process should you aim for? And, what differences in the market should you try to win at?

Let's start with this.

Pivot to reality

Back in November, Digiday's Lucia Moses wrote an article about how publishers are starting to abandon their (often failed) 'pivot to video' and are now instead focusing on a 'pivot to reality'... and I just love this phrase.

This, of course, is nothing new, because most media analysts have been saying this for years, but it seems to finally be happening.

The simple reality of media today is that we have way too much of everything, and it's far too easy for people to access it. So, just giving people more of something is a failed strategy from the start.

This is particularly a problem with all these 'pivot to [...]' ideas that we have seen over the past many years. Instead of solving anything, they are always a distraction.

For instance, it started with people saying, "We should pivot to digital". Well, duh, obviously you should pivot to digital. But just changing your format doesn't solve any problems, because everyone will be doing that.

Then came 'pivot to mobile', which presents exactly the same problem.

Then, when just pivoting to new formats didn't work, publishers started saying, "let's pivot to Facebook" and "let's pivot to Snapchat".

And then when these things didn't work either, in 2017, we saw the push to 'pivot to video'.

All of this is just silly, because the problem was never the format. The problem is that, in a world where we have way too much of everything, the only way to be successful is to find a way to get people to pick you specifically.

You have to 'pivot to you', and you have to find a way to stand out and be special.

Let me give you an example of this from outside the media world.

Earlier this month Apple released some revenue figures showing how Apple's App Store is performing in China.

The result was this:

Tim Cook says 1.8 million developers use Apple's platforms in China, and they have earned a total of about $17 billion or about 25% of total global App Store earnings.

This certainly sounds impressive, because those are all pretty big numbers, but let's do a bit of math.

$17 billion divided by 1.8 million developers equals... $9,444 per developer, on average, since 2010. That's only $1,349 per year, per developer.

This is a miniscule amount of money.

So, let me ask you a simple question. Should you 'pivot to apps' to get a share of what is a $17 billion market?

You see the problem?

This is entirely the wrong way to define your focus, because just creating an app isn't going to make you successful. It will only earn you $1,349/year. Instead, the only way to make more money is to do something that makes people pick your app specifically over what everyone else is doing.

It's exactly the same thing we see with publishing.

Sure, Facebook makes a ton of money, and a large part of the advertising market is now centered around video views, but we are also living in a world where the supply massively exceeds the demand.

Just pivoting to digital/mobile/Facebook/Snapchat/video isn't going to change anything, because everyone is doing that. It's a complete and total distraction away from the real challenge that you actually need to solve.

So, the most important focus area for 2018 is going to be to 'pivot to reality'. To stop just being one of many; to stop just chasing the same paths that everyone else is chasing; and to stop thinking that you can solve all your problems by just chasing the platforms with the most traffic.

Advertising

2017 was a really bad year for advertising for publishers, for many reasons. Now, every publisher knows that advertising is nowhere near the type of market it used to be, and a bigger and bigger slice of it is being taken over by the big platforms (Google, Facebook, and now also Amazon).

We could have a long discussion about why this is, and we could argue all day about whether Google and Facebook need to be regulated, or punished, or whatever argument publishers have, but I'm not going to go into this here. As a media analyst, I don't agree with the anti-Google/Facebook publishers, and it's a pointless discussion in relation to fixing the future for publishers.

The reality of the market is pretty simply. Brands are still spending the same amount of money they have always done on advertising, so the market isn't going away.

What's changing is how good we are at delivering something of value to the brands.

Brands want five things:

  • Convenience and simplicity. Most marketing people are stressed out, so being offered a simple way to do a lot of advertising all at once is preferable to manually planning each ad campaign with every individual publisher. This is why 'programmatic advertising' has become so popular. It's not really because it's the best solution, but in terms of time, it's massively more effective to use.
  • Advanced targeting, but done in a really simple way.
  • Metrics, so that brands can check how the ad campaign performed.
  • Return on investment (which often means very low cost).
  • And low-risk.

This is why Google and Facebook are winning. They have been looking at these factors and have come up with advertising models that work. Consequently, they are outcompeting traditional publishers.

It's far simpler and more convenient to advertise on Google, where you can reach people everywhere, than to do all that extra work to set up a specific campaign with a single magazine. The targeting is many times more advanced; the metrics are far more detailed; and the risk is generally much lower, because you don't have to spend a massive amount of money to get started.

The only thing that is not that great is the return on investment, but it's also not that great with publishers, so that's kind of a tie.

Let me give you an example:

If you visit a magazine today and click on the 'advertise' link on the bottom of the page, what do you see?

The answer is often something like this:

I'm sorry, you want me to email you or call you so that we can have a meeting about this?

Can you imagine how much revenue Facebook and Google would lose if you had to call them every time you wanted to advertise with them?

But this is not the worst part. The worst part is this...

This is what the magazine looks like when I visit it:

What exactly is it that you are offering me that is worth enough of my time that I'm willing to have a telephone call about it?

All I see is a banner ad.

But, Southern Living might say, we are offering a 'premium advertising experience'... okay, that's great. But I still just see a banner ad.

Southern Living hasn't actually demonstrated to me that they are worth spending all that extra time contacting. And no, telling people that you have "a unique audience of interested consumers" isn't an argument either, because both Google and Facebook will say that they have more than a billion interested consumers and engaged users.

This is why Facebook and Google are winning. They are winning because publishers are still stuck in the old world of media where advertising just happened by default.

Let me quickly give you another example of this.

I talked about the negative aspects of Apple's App Store before, so let me tell you about a positive thing they are doing.

Apple recently introduced a new pay-per-install ad product called Search Ads Basic.

Apple has had ads in the app store for a while, but what's special about this new ad product is that it is focused on smaller app developers.

First of all, instead of paying for exposure, you only pay for actual app installs, and even with that, they are priced in a very affordable way for anyone.

And, instead of fiddling with targeting (which smaller developers often don't have the insights or resources to do), Apple will take care of it.

As Apple says:

Set your goals. Let us do the rest.

This, again, is an illustration of why the tech companies are dominating the digital ad space. They are not just selling exposure, they are constantly tweaking and launching new ad models designed to solve specific problems for brands.

And, in this case, Apple is tapping into a very important market for smaller developers.

It's the same with Facebook and Google. A big part of their success and revenue is coming from smaller brands. You can create an ad for $50 and Facebook doesn't care. They will feature this ad the same way they do a $2 million campaign (although a $2M campaign will get you a lot more exposure).

How many traditional magazines offer something similar? How many are offering a different ad model for a subset of the market, designed to solve a specific problem that brands have?

Most publishers do not even know what challenges the brands have, because they are so focused on just selling mass-market random exposure.

So, a massive focus area for 2018 is for publishers to get out of the random banner ad market, and start to focus on developing specific ad products. Products that provide specific advertisers with measurable and guaranteed effects.

There are many ways this can be done. You could do it like Hearst is doing, by focusing on scale across all their publications and then take the very high road with product licensing. This is an interesting approach, although it does limit their 'partnerships' to only the largest brands.

Or you can take a completely different road and focus on connecting smaller brands to your audience in much more meaningful ways, as a way to enable, and help them grow with you.

On top of this, publishers also seriously need to step up their game when it comes to presenting their ad products.

Take a look at Apple's advertising product page.

They have created an entire site solely to convince brands to choose Apple. This is what publishers must do as well. Don't just tell people that you have an 'engaged audience' and a phone number to call. Convince brands you are worth spending a bit of extra time with.

The decline of advertising, the rise of subscriptions/memberships

Another very important focus area for 2018 is the growing importance of subscriptions and memberships, and the effort that we must put into this to make this work.

Again, this is due to the decline publishers are seeing with advertising.

In the past, advertising had the potential to monetize anything, because the public didn't differentiate their behavior based on the content. The advertising was a separate form of consumption, regardless of what people were reading.

Today, all of this has changed, and the simple reality is now three things:

  1. Publishers will get a smaller share of the total advertising market. This is not just because of Google, Facebook, and Amazon (although they are dominating this), it's also because brands now have more choice.
  2. The effectiveness of advertising is constantly in decline (here is a good example of how little the effect of online exposure really is), which encourages brands to look for other and more direct platforms. For instance, instead of advertising in a magazine, why not advertise directly on Amazon where consumers are most likely to buy?
  3. People have changed their behavior so that their purchasing decisions differ depending on the content the advertising is next to. So an ad next to a hard news story performs a lot worse than an ad next to an interesting YouTube video.

The result of this is that publishers, as a whole, will have to compete for a smaller share of the overall market, but this also means that a lot of content that used to work with advertising isn't working that well anymore.

A good example of this is to look at a wonderful publisher like Syria Deeply (part of News Deeply).

As a publisher, they are doing some of the best journalism on the planet, and they are constantly bringing attention to very important issues. And, in the past, you could have monetized journalism like this with advertising.

But today, brands require that their ads only show up in places that encourage people to have 'purchase intent'. And this isn't the case here.

Nobody will read an article on Syria Deeply and then think, "Hey, I should buy that new waffle maker." This just doesn't happen.

So, News Deeply are forced to come up with other ways to monetize, which in their case is through grants, but they could probably also get donations, similar to what we see with the Guardian.

This is, of course, an extreme example, but the same is true for many other publishers on a sliding scale. And the reality for all is that unless your focus is directly about something that is 'purchase intent' friendly, advertising is unlikely to be the primary driver of revenue in the future.

This sounds pretty bad (and it kind of is), but the upside is that we are also seeing a very positive trend in relation to people paying for content.

So, a massive focus area for publishers in 2018 is to 'pivot to pay'.

The challenge, of course, is that doing this requires a very different focus from an advertising focused publication. With advertising, you optimize for the flow of the content, because each individual article doesn't mean that much if you can just get people to spend more time with you.

The problem is that this leads to content that people consume at scale, but can't really remember later, and we see this every single day on Facebook.

Every day you see a ton of posts on Facebook, but can you remember even one of them today? What they have done is optimized for consumption (watched time), at the expense of recall.

And publishers are doing this too. In my recent article about what journalists should do if they want to start their own channels, I mentioned that an editorial focus like those often found in traditional magazines works against you.

For instance, I used the example of Cosmopolitan.

Cosmopolitan isn't a bad magazine as such, because it's just doing what everyone else is doing, but this content only drives exposure.

Even if you were to read all these articles, the likelihood that you would be able to remember them the next day is extremely low. And this is what the advertising focus has done to the media industry.

The problem is that this behavior works against you if you want to convince people to subscribe to you, because people are only going to subscribe if they can remember the value of the content.

So, the focus for 2018 is to make subscriptions work, and the way you do this is to change your editorial strategy from being about snackable content (advertising) to creating memorable content (subscriptions).

From articles to services

The next focus area is something I'm planning to write a lot more about in 2018, but I will give you a summary here. It's the shift from just publishing articles, to providing your readers with a real service.

This is a fascinating new form of media, because a lot of innovation is now happening outside the traditional media industry by startups who aren't defined around having journalists write articles.

So what am I talking about here?

Well, a simple example is to look at a fitness magazine. In the past, you would just write articles about fitness, which people would then read by sitting down and doing absolutely nothing else for 20 minutes.

Think about how strange that is. You are offering people fitness information, but the only way people can really consume that is by not 'doing' fitness.

But now, because of the internet, we are seeing more and more fitness companies that offer you fitness information while you are doing the fitness activity.

One example is Peloton, the massively successful fitness company, valued at $1 billion, with 250,000 paying subscribers.

This is one example out of many, but as a trend, it's quite telling that these companies are booming, while many traditional fitness magazines are struggling.

The internet has changed the definition of content. In the past it was always passive, but today it's not. And many types of publishing would benefit from a shift in focus from just giving people more to read, to giving people more to do.

Fitness is a perfect example to illustrate this, because it's so easy to see why 'doing' is better than 'reading'. But the same is true for so many other forms of publishing.

As I mentioned in some of my other articles, business publications would benefit from offering intelligence on data, customers, competitors, trends, or other business issues.

In the health industry, giving people a way of tracking their activity and physical attributes will dramatically change your focus. Imagine if, instead of just reading random articles about health, you could be healthy?

None of this means that passive content is going away, because there are many times when people just want to relax, but for any editorial focus area where you are talking about something people 'do', you will likely find that it's far more profitable to offer that as an active service.

So, this is another important focus area to be mindful of from 2018. Whenever you are discussing making an editorial change or doing something new, don't just publish more articles (like you have always done). Ask your team if you could offer this as a service.

The individuals

Another very important trend that I hope will encourage publishers to change in 2018 is the growth of individuals, and the power that this gives them.

This is not a new thing by any means, I have been talking about this for the past 10 years, but we are starting to see some serious differences in performance when we compare what individuals are able to do, with what we see in traditional publications.

In this article, I'm not going to talk about the trend of individuals themselves, because I just published a 46-page report about that. But I will briefly talk about the role of journalists (which I also wrote a long article about).

The problem with traditional publications is that journalists are often seen as an easily replaceable resource. Each journalist will often come to work and just write whatever story they happened to come across that day, and it will then be published as an article with a tiny byline that nobody ever sees.

The result of this is that the audience has no idea who the journalists are, because there is nothing to connect with.

This has a big influence on many of the focus areas I mentioned above. For instance, it's much harder to create memorable content, if the focus is just a random story by someone you don't know.

We also very clearly see the effect of this, and let me give you just a simple example that I have used before.

Here is the New York Times on YouTube. They have more than a million subscribers, and while a few of their videos stand out and have been seen by a lot people, most of them are like what you see below.

Each video is about a random topic (absolutely no focus of any kind), and from a random journalist. And the result of this is that each video is only seen by 0.75% of their subscribers, which is just terrible.

In comparison, here is Maddie Moate. She is a brilliant BBC presenter who has decided to create her own personal YouTube channel. She has 24,000 subscribers, but look at her views.

That's the same as the New York Times. A single individual is able to completely outcompete the New York Times... and we see this all the time.

This is the reality of digital media.

Old publishers define their journalists as factory workers, while digital native publishers define their channels around the journalists.

And what is really interesting about this is that when you scale this up, you can achieve some pretty impressive results. For instance, Vox has created a series called 'Borders', with one of their journalists taking center stage, each with more than 600,000 views.

The outcome of this is not just amazing content with impressive view figures, but also content that is far more relevant, far more focused... and most importantly, far more memorable.

I can't remember anything that the NYT has posted on YouTube, even though I just looked at their page 5 minutes ago. But I do remember Vox Borders, and I'm eagerly looking forward to when they publish the next video.

So, 2018 should be a year where you challenge the traditional role of journalism. Stop using journalists as an easily replaceable resource, and start using them as a 'network of individual creators'.

Look at what the digital natives are doing, and learn from that.

New tech and AI

Obviously we can't talk about the future without also talking about some of the new tech, and one thing that publishers should start to look at is AI.

AI has the potential to be the next big disruptive force for the media world, in much the same way as the internet was. This means it will dramatically change the market and make big parts of the old world obsolete.

There are two things that you need to look for when it comes to AI.

Replacing journalists

The first and most noticeable change is going to be improving workflows and efficiencies, and basically automating many things that we hire journalists to do now.

Let me give you an example.

Here is a sample of articles from a popular magazine. As you can see, this journalist is just spending every day creating random listicles.

In the future, AI will be able to do content like this quite easily, because it doesn't require any real skill. All it requires is for the AI to have some data input that allows it to rank and categorize different products.

In fact, I'm quite surprised that this hasn't been fully automated yet.

And when this happens, not only will this replace many journalists at many publications, it will do something even more profound. Because as soon as you can automate this using AI, the cost and effort drops from an already low level to zero, and that will entice all the spammers to flood the market with it. And when that happens, the social channels will adjust their algorithms to minimize it.

So, from a trend perspective, as soon as this is automated, it will also lose its ability to be monetized. Which means that not only will journalists lose jobs, but the publishers will also lose this part of the market.

And this is likely to happen not just with this specific type of content, but with a lot of similar low-intent articles.

So, my advice to you for 2018, is to do an AI audit to determine what type of content you are making today that is most likely to be replaced by AI. Because, again, not only will this change your workflows, it will also open this market to anyone else, and flood it with abundance.

Opening up new opportunities

What I just described are the downsides of AI, but there are also plenty of good things. For instance, AI allows us to do a lot of things we just couldn't do before. We discover new ways of solving a problem, providing a service to readers, and many other things.

This is exactly the same thing that happened when the internet arrived. On one hand it decimated a big part of the old media market, but it also created many new markets that were never possible before.

For instance, as I mentioned earlier, it is decimating the old market for fitness publishing, but it's creating a super-interesting new market for fitness training.

The focus on AI is merely the next step for this.

So, as a publisher, you need to start looking outside your normal way of thinking and start imagining what you could do if you had a really smart machine that could solve extremely complicated problems that we humans wouldn't be able to do.

How would that change how you publish? How would that change how you gather information, or evaluate the topics you cover?

But more to the point, remember what I wrote about how publishers need to think more about creating services. AI is going to be a really big part of that in the future, because it can help you create something new and unique.

2018 is not going to be the year where everything suddenly shifts to AI, the trends don't work that way. But this is the time where all of this starts.

So, focus 2018 on being the year of reimagination.

Changes in editorial focus

Finally, let's talk about a change in the overall editorial focus.

Everything I have written about in this article is related to editorial changes, but let's talk about something far more specific.

In 2017, we saw the partial collapse of journalism due to a very long list of factors, including fake news, bots, scams, rogue publishers, the increasing use of opinion and pundits to drive traffic, and so forth.

But the problem isn't just with all these bad publishers, it's more profound.

The real problem is that we are creating news in entirely the wrong way. For instance, in today's media world, we define and report news as a snack. And when something really important happens, we present it to our readers as a series of quick articles (aka snacks), so that people never really have to think about it.

They get outraged, emotional, they make gut decisions as to what to trust, but you never get your readers to a point where they actually start to think.

The result of this is terrible, as is very simply explained by Bobby Duffy, the Managing Director of Ipsos MORI, when he tweeted this:

Key things we get wrong in Britain: only 19% of us think that murder rate down since 2000, when is down 29%; only 15% of us think terrorist deaths down, they're down 80%; we think 1 in 5 teenage girls give birth each year, actually 1.4%.

And when I saw this, I replied:

We need to do a much better job in the media. It's painfully obvious that the traditional definition of reporting news simply isn't doing what it is supposed to.

This is happening because we now live in a world where information is everywhere, and because of this abundance the public is suffering from a type of story-paralysis.

People have so much information about every single issue, from so many sources, that they simply don't know what to think anymore. So, even when we report a fact in the news, this is simply drowned out by all the other things that also sound like facts. And the only way to change this is to create a type of news oasis, where the level of transparency, fact-checking, evaluations, etc, is approached completely differently.

Mind you, I have no illusion as to believe that big newspapers will change their focus in 2018. In fact, every trend I see points in the other direction... that it will get even worse.

But I want you to think about this in 2018. What if you didn't report news the way you do today, and how could we reimagine this whole thing? What if news wasn't just a flow of random articles (aka a lot of daily snacks), but something completely different?

Again, 2018 is not going to change this, but the public is screaming for another solution to news. And, in 2018, this demand for change is going to get much bigger, which will open up new markets for news that are completely different to what we see today.

Future-first

Another editorial change I would like to see, mostly from western media companies, is to be more future focused.

The reason I'm saying this is because I'm receiving more and more emails from editors and journalists from countries in Africa or from India, and there is one aspect of this that I find to be truly remarkable.

It's about age.

If we look at most countries in Northern Europe (where I live), we see that the median age is fairly old. For instance, in my country (Denmark), we have a median age of 42.2 years old. And, because of this, it's not surprising that the average age of a newspaper reader is also quite old.

Compare this to a country like Uganda. Here the median age is 15.8 years old.

That's just crazy, and the result is a very different editorial focus.

For instance, in Europe, the media itself feels quite old in the way we focus our stories.

Here is a simple example.

Tesla recently announced their new Tesla Truck and many European newspapers immediately started writing articles about why this couldn't possibly work. They interviewed competitors who had raised problems with the weight of the batteries as proof that this wasn't possible to make... yet.

But think about the tone you are setting here as a newspaper. You are discouraging change, and you end up sounding like an old geezer who goes around saying "Bah. Humbug!"

As journalist, Sydney J. Harris once said:

Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.

But think about this in comparison to a newspaper in Uganda.

If you had this editorial profile in a newspaper in Uganda, you would likely fail, because their much younger audiences are all about the future.

So, a key strategy for newspapers in Africa is to be future focused. To be the guide that helps people into this future, to be a newspaper that enables this future, and one that helps people see and explore future potential.

But here is the thing. I don't think this strategy is unique to Africa. I think the same thing could be true here in old and boring Europe (and other western countries). The only difference is that we have forgotten how to do it.

I'm not saying you should glorify the future or stop doing critical journalism. What I'm saying is that the framing of a story makes a big impact. There is a difference between reporting that something can never work, and instead exploring ways something could be solved.

So, in 2018, I want you to make an editorial goal to become future focused. Because this is such an important element of long-term growth (as opposed to short-term outrage) of any publication, anywhere.

2018 ... and beyond

All the things I have mentioned in this article are the bigger and more important macro-trends that you should care about in 2018.

But, also notice that the headline didn't say this was only about 2018, the headline says: "The Media Trends to Care about in 2018-2023".

None of the things I have talked about here are going to be a focus area just for 2018, but will be part of an ongoing change towards where you should be five years from now.

Make 2018 the year where you start pivoting to reality... and make 2023 the year where you dominate it.

Many things have to change in these next five years. But that is what makes it so exciting.

So... welcome to the future of publishing!

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Martin Giesler

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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