We stand at a cusp in the digital publishing ecosystem where experts are questioning whether ad supported journalism is lucrative any more. Medium’s CEO Ev Williams recently stated “…it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to.”
What’s the solution, I ask? There isn’t one at the moment, but Medium is on a mission to figure it out. I’m all in for radical change, and I will support anyone who ventures out to create a new path. But till that path is discovered, what does digital publishing do for revenue besides banners and sponsored content?
There has been a lot of buzz about Sponsored Content being the next big thing in digital publishing. Given the way the Sponsored Content industry is growing, it could help publishers recover some of the lost revenue. But, in my opinion, that’s just short term.
The problem with Sponsored Content is fundamental. It’s an ad disguised as a piece of content. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You will get the eyeballs, because people were really there to read content but when they know it’s sponsored by a brand, do they absorb the message at ease or do they feel cheated into it? A research report reveals that 54% readers don’t trust Sponsored Content.
Here’s my second concern – publishers will run more Sponsored Content to generate more revenue. Could there be a day when more than half the content on your favorite website is sponsored? If paid pieces of content are 5% to 10% of the articles on a website, then users may tolerate that. But if that became 25-50% of the content, then would users return?
Here’s my third concern – Sponsored Content kills the soul of advertising – the creative. Creatives stir emotions. Isn’t that what TV, Print and Radio ads are all about? But on digital, somehow we’ve discounted the value of the creative.
Wouldn’t it be ideal that both universes (content and ads) coexist in harmony without invading each other’s space? Content should stay original and honest so that users like consuming it and come back for more. And ads, well they should be ads. But, they need to be better behaved on digital. No forced pop-ups, invasion of reading space, difficult close buttons, non-skippable ads, and misleading buttons. The cleanest form so far is standard banner ads; but in a limited non-annoying quantity.
However, the standard banner has some chronic problems however. These problems are even more acute on mobile. The metrics are completely against it. CTRs are at all-time lows, banner view ability is dismal, accidental clicks are over 60%. Did you also know that 86% of users suffer banner blindness? Banners fail to delight or excite because of its form.
What if we simply changed the format? What if the format was designed to be easily dismissible, non-intrusive, attract attention, and please the eye aesthetically? What if the format allowed mobile creatives to get richer and deeper as opposed to being restricted inside an IAB banner size (like 300×250, 320×50)?
I imagine a world where digital ads are rich and engaging, and consumed by users at their own will. Where instead of focusing on Content Ads, we focus on enriching Ad Content. This could make digital advertising glorious again, which in turn could make digital publishing lucrative again.