Note: This post first appeared on LocalVox.com.
I read an interesting post in The Awl that really struck me and summarized nicely the way we at LocalVox think about the future of local news and publishing. The article titled “The Pretty New Web and the Future of ‘Native’ Advertising” hits on a couple key points.
Consumers more and more are viewing the web in applications like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Flipboard, mobile apps, etc. and because these apps control their environment, inherently the content creators are losing control of ad mediums. You can’t just place your display advertisement in someone else’s app. So where does that leave traditional publishers who are dependent on advertising revenue?
Well, the industry trends present a bleak picture with some bright spots. On one hand, revenues are declining precipitously. On the other, traffic from online is now exceeding circulation of print. The problem is that there is much less revenue associated with the same circulation online (and it’s odd using a traditional term like “circulation” to refer to online properties). Technologies such as real time bidding are making advertising markets transparent, driving down CPMs and threatening the viability of relying on traditional regional and national advertisers who can now find better deals through other means.
Bottom line: If a local publisher just sells “adjacency” they will get “adjacency” rates.
Turning the Tide with New Revenue Streams for Local Publishers
So what is the solution for local publishers – and everyone else in an app filtered web world:
“The hot word in advertising right now is “native.” If I hear “native” one more time this week, oof, I swear. As with all terms in advertising, it’s a word that doesn’t make much sense on its face. (Ask me about “stock and flow” someday.) What “native” means is: it’s not in an ad box. All “native” means is that advertisers are now getting to come closer to presenting advertising that is less distinguishable from what they like to call “content,” AKA the stuff people make that people go to “apps” and “sites” to see.
We (along with everyone else!) are expanding our native advertising! There are really good ways to do it, I think, and I think over the next three months we’ll be doing a better job with it! I even believe, particularly in the cases of “brought-to-you-by” sponsored editorial “content,” that readers and viewers of good things are often happy to see that a sponsor paid for it to exist!
It also really helps if you try to only take good advertising, that’s a good match for where it’s published. (Hard to do, but a worthwhile fight.) “
This is exactly the approach we think local publishers must take. As an example, our LocalVox online marketing platform powers Hartford Courant’s MyTown Marketplace, where local businesses can publish directly to their local neighborhood section online (and Facebook, Twitter, their website, email newsletters, etc. with a single button. The local publishing is a significant piece, but just one piece of the solution.).
And the result is revenue that defies traditional CPMs by orders of magnitude. The content is integrated into a separate co-branded site that is all advertorial, but it is brought tastefully into Courant on the town pages.
The Cultural Shift to Native Content Provided by Local Businesses
In conversations, I have had with other local publishers, I continue to hear fears of local businesses publishing on their own and how the content must be clearly distinguished from editorial content. I think that is true in principle, i.e. there should be some indication, but that advertorial need not be sectioned off into an ad unit. Instead, as Choire Sicha points out in the Awl, this content does in fact have reader value. A charity event at the local theatre is news. A truffle tasting dinner at the local restaurant is news. New kids classes at the local play space is news. The pizza parlor that sponsors the Little League team is news. It’s just a matter of who covers it and the voice.
Local publishers who embrace this concept will find that they have more content to curate than ever and at lower production costs. They will have tighter ties into their local communities and will play an expanded role in how readers find out what is going on around them. Their readers are human and as such eat, drink, learn, play, shop, experience and exercise. Why not expand on your ability to provide such coverage while creating valuable revenue sources?
Of course this shift goes much further. Culturally, local publishers need to stop thinking of their clients as advertisers and what they are selling as advertising. They must build a culture of long term relationships, not temporary advertising orders that must be continually renewed. They should open up to a new set of clients beyond regional advertisers, as native content could come from smaller businesses. It may not be hard news in the strict sense, but getting that content could be the key to saving the local publishing industry.
We at LocalVox agree. The future of local publishing is about native content, intermixed with original and crowdsourced content in new and interesting ways. We are excited to be helping local publishers get there in these critical times.