Predictions for Publishing in 2020

Paul Herron Posted by Paul Herron on Tuesday, 11 February 2020

2020 Publishing Trends

2020 promises to be another pivotal year in the publishing industry. Print is still not dead and is showing no signs of fulfilling that grim prediction anytime soon, but publishers still need to keep innovating to stay ahead. Here, we look ahead to the trends that will define publishing in 2020.

Streamlining the Sign-Up Process 

What’s more important, getting lots of data about the people who sign up to your service, or getting lots of people signing up without giving you lots of data? It’s a debate that has raged for some time, but 2020 is set to see this trend continuing to move towards a much more streamlined approach than has been common in the past.

Getting data about your customers is important for marketing to them and retaining them, but you won’t get it at all if they don’t register or subscribe in the first place because they’ve been put off by your over-complicated sign-up process. The Athletic’s rise to prominence has undoubtedly been helped by a streamlined sign-up done well, using Facebook and PayPal’s 1-Step Checkout to enable readers to subscribe for a 7–day free trial (and beyond) with almost no friction at all.

MPP Global recently trialed a new ‘Express Checkout’ flow with a client in the US, initial results have been awesome with desktop conversions up from 5% to 15% and mobile conversions from 0.6% to 2%. Essentially this process requires only an email address and payment details to be entered, the user then follows prompts to create a password post payment. Further tests follow to optimize design on mobile pages and make payment types such as Apple Pay more prominent on mobile devices, but the results to date speak for themselves.

Podcasts

Podcasting represents an excellent opportunity for publishers to add value to new digital formats. It is continuing to grow in popularity and potential importance to publishers looking to diversify revenue streams and acquisition models. Starting in 2019, more than half (51%) of the US population listened to a podcast, up from 44% last year. To put it another way, 144 million people (20 million more people than just a year ago) have listened to one, and news podcasts make up 21% of the most popular episodes on Apple.

The Guardian has built up a larger audience for its daily podcast than one that buys the newspaper, and any fears that it is cannibalizing its own audience is eased by the fact that this podcast audience is generally younger than either the newspaper readers or website visitors. Meanwhile, Slate is already making more than half of its revenue from podcasts and publishers like Politiken are experimenting with hybrid models like having its daily podcast free for two days each week, while the mid-week versions are exclusive to subscribers.

In 2020 we’ll see much more in the way of publishers honing and refining their podcast strategies to make the most of this enthusiastic new audience, but how much conversion will we see from podcast subscribers to digital/print subscribers?

Personalization & Product Diversification

Big Data, Dynamic Paywalls, Propensity Modelling…all of these have been hot topics at publishing conferences for years, but there is more to conversion than simply getting people through the gate. You’ve got to show the right product to the right person in real-time, using ‘programmatic product sales’.

Product and contract management is getting ever more complex with publishers juggling thousands of iterations of the same product across multiple systems while integrations to front end customers journeys are so complicated that it takes many publishers a lot of time and money to launch a new pricing model or contract. This means that innovation grinds to a halt, and so does the revenue.

By implementing “wysiwyg” style tools and removing the dependency on tech teams, commercial staff can experiment with new business models, price points and offers on the fly. This speed enables publishers to learn and ‘fail fast’ especially important in an industry that is experiencing a significant digital transformation. Operational efficiency becomes increasingly important in the race to transform subscription revenues.

This year MPP Global has focused on the introduction of basket capability this year to support the ability for publishers to offer and manage bundles with individual items from the back-office. But the introduction of baskets on publisher’s product landing pages means that users can now ‘build their own’ bundle on the front end, selecting their preferred content, products, and packages – the ultimate convenience for subscribers. We’re really excited about what this means for our clients as they continue to look for supplementary revenue and extend their ARPU.

Going Reader First

It might sound like an obvious point to make, but not enough publishers are currently basing their revenue models on being ‘reader first’. At IFRA, Marina Haydn from The Economist highlighted the three pillars of their strategy:

  • Focus on the customer
  • Perfecting product development
  • Pricing, pricing, pricing

With regular surveys of their readership, they found out some incredibly useful insights, including the surprising revelation that their customers felt they were being undercharged for what they were getting. That is not the kind of insight you could feel confident basing your strategy on without the research to back it up. The Economist has experimented with app formats as well as subscription models, always empowering its readers to decide what suits them best, and this is the way to go for 2020.

Data Security

The great GDPR panic might be well behind us now, but consumers are becoming ever more aware of what data is being held about them and how it is being used. IBM’s Institute for Business Value  survey  this year showed that:

  • 81 percent of consumers have become more concerned about how companies use their data
  • 87 percent think companies should be more heavily regulated on personal data management

Subscribers won’t hesitate to churn if they feel like publishers aren’t protecting their data or using it ethically, so 2020 is a year where you need to ensure that you are working with third parties that will mitigate the risks on your behalf by centralizing, processing & managing your customer data in a secure, PCI-DSS Level 1 and GDPR-compliant environment.

Billing Optimization 

With many publishers having developed excellent acquisition processes and having established a solid subscriber base, thoughts turn to the inevitable churn, and how to plug the ‘leaks’ at the bottom of the lifecycle journey. Specialist media focussed billing providers can help add between 10-30% to your revenue bottom line with involuntary churn techniques, card updater services, and customizable re-try rules.

Focus on Cost to Serve & Self-Care

With the shift to digital, many publishers will focus on self-care development this year to provide better experiences to customers and reduce call center costs. Many are exploring using pre-built ‘My Account’ style pages that enable both B2B & B2C subscribers to manage their subscriptions, view orders, manage data preference, change address, manage payment details and manage devices.

Well-developed self-care portal’s like Sky’s in the UK are especially important for lifecycle management, providing publishers with a further platform within which to engage, reduce voluntary churn, cross-sell and up-sell new packages and services.