Q&A 

Publishing trends: 5 minutes with… Markus Karlsson

For many companies, digital transformation has accelerated this year. We grab five minutes with Affino CEO Markus Karlsson to discuss some of the options and opportunities facing publishers as we head into 2021.

By Markus Karlsson

Publishing trends: 5 minutes with… Markus Karlsson
Photograph: Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Q: What have been the key learnings for publishers over the last twelve months?

A: The pandemic has been extremely challenging but is a clear opportunity to innovate, with customers more willing to explore online and digital projects than ever before.

Payment is no barrier to growing engagement and brands. Our customers’ stats show that the most engaged and fastest growing brands this year have been ones requiring paid subscriptions; even gated sites outperform the free ones.

Many publishers have realised that while digital revenues are often smaller than in-person and print ones, they also often come with a bigger margin and larger market reach. It is also much easier to automate digital processes over more traditional means. Automation is one of the key elements to be considered.

Q: In terms of the digital transformation journey, where do some publishers typically still fall short?

A: The biggest shortfall is with those publishers who put business on hold during the pandemic, hoping it will all be over in three months, then six months, then twelve months.

Even though the pandemic will pass, it is an inflection point for digital adoption, in particular with the senior level corporate executives.

There is a paradigm shift in progress and you need to be onboard with that or left behind.

Q: To what extent is artificial intelligence being utilised by publishers and where does the AI opportunity lie?

A: AI relies on companies having lots of useful, connected and permissioned data. In practice, very few have this, and it should be a key focus for all media companies.

A big challenge coming is that 3rd party cookies are increasingly becoming ineffective with up to 80% of site visitors opting out of being tracked via their cookie preferences.

Q: Data walls are becoming increasingly common. What are the key dos and don'ts for publishers thinking of putting one up?

A: The No. 1 recommendation is to start experimenting with them.

No. 2 is to keep experimenting.

The data walls are absolutely key to knowing the audience better and being best able to serve them.

They are also the key driver towards a subscription offering, in terms of the data and permissions with which to segment and target the subscription offerings, launch new subscription and event products and indeed brands, and are the natural stepping stone to paid memberships.

They are also the key stepping stone to AI, as without effective data capture, AI will always have a limited scope for adding value.

Q: What can publishers do to further improve editorial workflow performance and reduce bottlenecks and other inefficiencies?

A: The single biggest move is to change to a digital first, agile content strategy.

Then removing bottlenecks by moving to fewer systems, or even a single core connected platform is essential.

We are also big believers that organisations should increasingly engage with a product perspective rather than limiting it to a solely publishing focus.

As a result, we’re seeing an increase in the number of product managers versus editorial managers. This is especially important when embracing all the digital options.

Editorial workflow optimisation is also increasingly moving to generating multiple outputs from any activity – eg. an interview which is then delivered in video, podcasting and text based formats. All our more progressive clients are engaging in these multiple formats – including Farmers Guardian, OMG, TTG and The Stage.

As always, it is essential to bring the team along, or to add new multi-faceted members to the team who are comfortable with this way of creating and delivering content.

Q: Where do you think publishers should be focusing their efforts in the year ahead?

A: It is hard to have an exact crystal ball as we don’t yet know how quickly the covid vaccines will be rolled out, nor how quickly the audiences will move past the pandemic mindset.

We do know, though, that for much of the audience, the game has changed, and that online and apps are now where many brands will find most of their audience.

Publishers should be focused on developing the best digital products and experiences for their audiences as that is the one clear area which will not be disrupted in 2021.

Publishers should be exploring video, podcasts, and social engagement further to engage with the audience in a more media agnostic manner – ie. where the audience is and how it likes to consume the media.

Publishers should all be focused on growing their subscription audience, and launching new subscription products as the appetite and acceptance is there now. If they leave it too late, then others will seize the opportunity and revenues.

Publishers should explore the new social platforms which the younger generation have pretty much adopted as their own - including Discord, TikTok and Reddit.

They should also seize the opportunity for their brands to be the means for the key influencers and indeed journalists to reach the market, or risk losing them to platforms such as Medium, Patreon and Substack.

'Unified Business Platform'

About us

Founded in 2009, Affino provides a ‘Unified Business Platform’ for media, publishing, events, membership and professional services organisations.

The Affino SaaS Platform provides a complete single customer view solution for engaging with and monetising audiences. It combines full-range CRM with Sales and Marketing Automation, Ecommerce, Subscriptions and Memberships, Messaging, CMS, Events, Ad Serving, and Recruitment.

We help streamline and make organisations more efficient, more cost-effective, and more productive, as well as delivering numerous new revenue stream capabilities not possible via alternative means.

The fully GDPR-compliant system is built on the principles of Actionable Intelligence - prompting and triggering intuitive rapid responses based on fully accurate and comprehensive first-hand real-time data.

Web: www.affino.com

Email: engage@affino.com

Tel: +44 (0)20 3393 3240