2015 brought sweeping changes across the industry. The technology giants started elbowing each other for a slice of the publishing pie, ad-blocking went mainstream and a handful of large magazine titles shockingly kicked the bucket.
So what does 2016 have in store for publishers? Here at Page Lizard, we’ve whipped out our crystal ball and have rounded up our Digital Publishing predictions for the next year.
1 – Monetisation will dominate industry conversations
2015 brought its biggest ever challenge to publisher’s revenues, as readers increasingly expected free content, print circulation continued to decline and ad blockers rose in popularity. This conversation will dominate the first half of 2016, with the industry looking to leading examples like the Economist’s low-cost Espresso app. For some though, 2016 simply won’t deliver the cold, hard cash that they need to keep going, and it’s almost certain that we’ll see more small and large titles crumbling under the strain, particularly in the consumer magazine sector.
It’s not all doom and gloom though – we also think that this will be a strong year for niche and membership publishers. These groups are able to leverage events, CPD publications and specialist content to bring in revenue and subscriptions.
2 – Personalisation will gain ground
In the digital world, why should one size fit all? Content delivery has shifted from issue-based publishing (where everything is released in a print-style bundle) to continuous publishing, where articles are released more frequently. We think 2016 will bring another trend to the table: targeted content. This isn’t a new concept, but with mainstream magazine apps like TES adopting a targeted approach to drive engagement, this is an idea that will capture the imagination of some publishers. Not to mention that offering targeting and personalisation can be a clever way of adding value to digital content.
3 – Facebook’s Instant Articles will swim…
We’ve been following the developments with Facebook, Apple News and Google’s AMP avidly since the summer, and there’s no doubt that these technology giants hold great influence over the publishing industry. What is becoming increasingly evident is that Facebook wields an alarming amount of power when it comes to publishing, and 2015 was the year it overtook Google as the top referring site to publishers.
Combine this with their slow-burning Instant Articles project and the release of Notify in November, and it’s evident that Facebook are on a roll.
4 – …as Apple News sinks
I can hear the howls of rage from the Apple fanatics already, but bear with me. Apple have done a fantastic job of really shaking things up this year – their News announcement put article-based publishing firmly on the tables for discussion for many publishers. Information about the project was kept under such a tight set of NDAs that it was almost impossible for publishers to prepare anything for the release, unless they were one of the large organisations rumoured to be partners. The launch went largely unnoticed, the UK release was botched, many feeds were dragged in looking a mess, and 4 months on, most users still haven’t figured out it’s even on their devices.
Yes, there are many good things about Apple News like the personalisation, the ad revenue deals and its sleek appearance. They may even be ironing things out and will nudge iOS-ers about it in a month or two. But look at it this way: Facebook can afford to make mistakes with publishing as users will remain in its ecosystem regardless, Apple can’t. Once people have opened the app up, had a play and abandoned it, no number of improvements will get them to reopen it. We guess that by the end of the year, Apple will have quietly abandoned it.
5 – Responsive websites and web apps will challenge native apps
Responsive websites, web apps and such aren’t breaking news. But when it comes to publishing, the mindset is slowly shifting from “digital = apps” to “what else can digital do for us?”. Many publishers have found that apps are far from the Holy Grail they promised to be, and are doing little to prop up the decline in print. Web-based publishing may well be a winner, and we think that publishers will start bypassing native apps entirely in favour of web apps and social publishing.
6 – Mobile advertising will hit a serious crisis point
Thanks to initiatives like Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, the web is getting fast. Instant, in fact – we challenge you not to be impressed by the AMP demo (visit g.co/ampdemo on your mobile). The problem is, the ad technology simply isn’t up to scratch, and either loads painfully slowly or not at all. Throw in the ad-block debate which has dominated the latter half of 2015, and it’s clear that mobile advertising is in a bit of a pickle. We don’t think ad tech is quite ready to catch up, and instead the social networks will pick up the revenue from advertising instead, dominating traditional web advertising towards the end of 2016.
7 – Tablet magazines will die the death
Traditional tablet magazines just don’t seem to be working for readers, and with good reason! The concept of an issue comes from the print mindset, particularly the monthly issue. We can’t expect users to behave the same way in the digital environment and await the digital monthly issue going live as eagerly as they did the print issue dropping onto their doormat. The few successful magazine apps this year will be ones that encourage regular engagement – little and often is a good approach to take when thinking about re-inventing digital ‘issues’.
8 – The dreaded PDF replica will make a strong return
Despite a bright outlook for digital publishing in general this year, we’ve also picked up on an undercurrent of publishers reverting back to PDF editions. “Why?” you wail…but we despair too. With a heavy heart, we predict that 2016 will come full-circle as titles once again put their PDFs back into replica apps. Understandably, the reasons usually point back to monetisation (see prediction 1) and the fact that mobile-responsive HTML editions are simply too costly to produce and maintain.
So there you have it…our eight predictions for 2016. Do you agree? Have you got any predictions of your own? Tweet us @pagelizard!
Other crystal-ball articles well worth reading:
2016: When Tablet Magazines Get to Die (Aileen Gallagher)
2016: It’s make or break time for digital magazines (David Hicks)
The year ahead for magazines (Glyn Williams)