[UPDATE 4 Sept: I have updated this post to the original draft, which includes specific and strong recommendations to publishers and marketers. They had been redacted, but a colleague asked "What would you DO about this?" so I saw fit to reinclude them. These are my answers; there are no easy solutions, but these are a step towards guidelines. Updates at the end of the piece, in bold.]
Publishers Are Engaged In Self-Harm, With Marketers As An Accessory
You remember when the email spam problem maxed out almost a decade ago? Or when content farms threatened to turn Google search results into useless piles of keyword-slurry? Or peak belly fat?
There should be a word for the moments when the mechanisms that aim to keep our electronic information corridors running well fail.
It’s shaping up to be one of those moments for the content distribution space (and particularly its subdiscipline native advertising, or sponsored content).
You can pity the reader who arrives at an article on many publishers’ websites today; I’m talking about you, Guardian and Forbes, but also you, New York Times and Washington Post. How is the reader to know if the article they’ve come to read is the product of a straightforward pay-to-publish play, an informal “link exchange” relationship, an “influencer” play, an independent opinion piece, or a piece of pure editorial? They can’t.
For the record: The “clear labeling” commandment is a fig leaf. By the time a reader has gotten so far through the article that they’re wondering why it keeps promoting a particular mindset, product, or opinion and started searching for cruft around the article, the trust in the information, the source, and the medium is lost.
This week, the iPad app world is frantically sorting through some recent changes in its environment. Last Monday, Apple quietly altered its app approval policies in a way that will make publishers much happier. Specifically, Apple has relaxed control over whether apps can access content paid for outside of the App Store’s purchase APIs. The company has also allowed publishers to price however they want, both outside and inside of the app.
In the same week, FT.com released a subscription-based HTML5 web app intended for iPad users that bypasses Apple entirely, giving the publisher its own path to market that does not depend on or enrich Apple directly. The coincidence of these two events is not lost on most of us industry observers and is the topic of a Forrester report issued by my colleague Nick Thomas last Friday. In it, Nick explains why the FT’s move is probably the first of many such moves by the most recognized publishers, even with Apple’s newly announced policy reversal.
But while publishers figure out their next steps for their content apps, there’s one app that no one is talking about but I believe everyone should have their eye on. It’s the Amazon Kindle app. This app violates even Apple’s revised policies and will soon face a day of reckoning when Apple's June 30th deadline for compliance comes up.
I don’t claim to know Amazon's plans, but I will claim to tell Amazon what it should do:
Time to get my hands a bit dirty. Last week I posted an eBook forecast with a brief explanation of why the book business may complete its digital revolution more quickly than other media businesses have. Turns out this assertion was more difficult to hear than I anticipated and I got some very insistent (and worth reading) comments. The discussion that ensued both on the blog and outside of it was very complex, this is not a simple matter. However, there are parts of it that are very simple that I have to clarify, even though it means rolling up my sleeves a bit. Allow me to draw into this discussion John Thompson of Cambridge University who gave a very worthwhile interview to the Brooklyn Rail this month to discuss his recently published analysis of the book industry, Merchants of Culture. I will refer to just one of his specific comments:
"There are many people who just love books and they love the ideas that are expressed in books; they love the stories that are told through books and all of it. They’re very attached to it.... They cherish the book. And they believe that this is an artifact that they want in their lives. And some of the technological commentators in this industry just completely miss this point."
The second session of AudienceScience Summit this afternoon is a panel moderated by Quentin George, Chief Digital Officer of Mediabrands. Panelists include Dave Dickman, SVP of Digital Media Sales from Warner Bros. Television and Barbara Healy, VP of Online and Mobile Fulfillment at Tribune.
The theme of the panel was intended to address how these publishers manage their audience assets. But really the primary message I took away was that publishers are focusing on solution sells -- finding ways to sell more high margin offerings -- whatever these happen to be. I was expecting to hear more specifics about how they are working with publisher optimization solutions, or data management offerings. But it sounded instead that it was any and all efforts to create unique ad solutions, rather than just impressions.
Two points heard, one good, one bad:
1) Warner Bros talked about an alternative way to think about creative, empowering creatives to build original programming that airs on the Web and allows users to provide input into the plot and production that the program takes. This approach garnered premium sponsorship (from J&J) and helped creative resources feel a part of (and not irrelevant to) emerging media.
Coming to you live from the AudienceScience Targeting Summit in Las Vegas, a three day event for publishers and advertising talking about changes in display media and the value of targeting for both sides of the online advertising ecosystem: buyers and sellers. My presentation was part of the publisher day (Day one is for publishers, day two for both publishers and advertisers, and day three for advertisers alone) and spoke to the findings of a custom study I worked on for Audience Science earlier this year. The conclusions I shared today are:
Online advertising has significant growth in store
Audience and behavioral targeting will grow further advertiser investment in display media
And yet, advertisers still second guess display advertising value because it is so hard to take full advantage of (I walked through a laundry list of challenges online advertisers face like media proliferation, measurement challenges, $$ shifting downstream from branding to more direct sales channels, operations inefficiencies and limited staff)
So publishers must be ready to help create more automated, more dynamic, more data driven advertiser solutions to help advertisers overcome the challenges with using display today.