As a technologist that serves the local publishing community, I always enjoy reading articles from experts in the publishing field regarding the fate of the industry. A recent post by Ken Doctor talks about the challenge for digital news sites, particularly around the apparently dismal fiscal results of companies such as BuzzFeed, Mashable, and others. The focus is on ad revenue and not reader engagement.
Doctor also talks about the recent move to video. He mentions that sites such as BuzzFeed are using more video because it sells more ads and the ad rates are higher than for editorial content. I don’t think the move to video is the holy grail. I do get the benefits of video:
- It’s much easier to optimize and promote on mobile than written content
- It’s much easier for people to consume, and generally more entertaining
- It appeals to our “lazy” nature of consuming content
For some reason, it’s totally acceptable to interrupt a consumer of video with ads at the beginning, middle and end of the video content, but it’s less acceptable to do the same with written content. I’m not howling at the moon here – just a fact that we have to live with.
When I think about Facebook’s popularity, I don’t believe it’s solely because of video, or any other single feature. It’s because Facebook is an active platform. The user gets to actively participate and engage – with friends, with strangers, with video, with the written word. While I’m personally not a Facebook power user, I do use it to keep up with friends and watch a funny cat video now and then. But whenever I do go to Facebook, several things do not happen:
- I don’t get popups
- I can easily ignore all the ads on the right column and posted content (which I always do)
- I can participate very easily (which I sometimes do)
Facebook is popular because as a reader I can choose what I want to see. If a publisher only publishes certain types of content, then they get only those people that are interested in that content. And to make money, they push content I don’t want or need in front of me. If they do this with video, it may be more elegantly done, but they are still forcing content on me that I don’t want and I have to waste time watching, that’s not going to help.
If publishers want the reader engagement (and associated ad revenue benefits) of tech platforms, they need to let others have a voice on their platform – otherwise, they are the only one with the bullhorn, and that’s guaranteed to bring in less eyeballs than Facebook or Google. Stop forcing me to watch what you are getting paid to push in front of me, and let me choose. That is a recipe for sustainability.