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Survey reveals publishers’ stages of growth and key goals

Mobile publishing platform Marfeel has surveyed 129 publishing executives worldwide to reveal the strategies and technology they plan to use to grow their audience and increase their revenue in 2020.

The Big Publisher Survey of 2020 surveyed publishers of varying sizes and types, segmenting each based on the average number of monthly sessions their websites achieve (less than 1 million, 1-10 million, and 10-100 million). 

The segmentation suggests that the surveyed publishers are based in North America and Europe, with many covering mainstream topics. However, the insights gained from the publishers in each segment are interesting, and can be applied to the Australian market if we think about each as ‘smaller/niche’, ‘growing’, and ‘well-established’.  

I’d be really interested to hear what you think about Marfeel’s findings. Do they fit your experience, and understanding of the Australian niche publishing sector? 

Publishers with smaller audiences are driven by content quality 

Of the smaller publishers surveyed, Marfeel found:  

  • 59 per cent are more likely to list content quality as their strategy to grow their publication; 
  • 56 per cent are more likely to list social media as their main traffic source; and, 
  • 32 per cent are more likely to list Google organic as their biggest source of traffic. 

Marfeel interprets these stats as smaller publishers being firstly influenced by the growth available to them via social media traffic, which leads to a strategy based around content quality. 

For these publishers, Marfeel says “Making content more engaging has a direct impact on the numbers of readers they are able to attract.” 

While this is true, without more information, it’s a chicken and egg situation. I’d be more inclined to interpret that smaller publishers focus on producing quality content, which attracts social media traffic on the basis of its relevance to the publishers’ demographic. 

Few smaller publishers surveyed are looking to improve the technology used to produce their digital assets: 

  • Only 19 per cent listed ‘improving online experiences’ as their main goal 
  • 7 per cent cite optimising their ad stack as their main goal 
  • 33 per cent listed reaching Gen-Z as their most daunting prospect. 

This may point to the limited staffing and resources smaller publishers have available to them to effect this type of change. 

Engaged readers are more valuable than advertising 

Of the publishers surveyed with average monthly sessions of between 1-10 million, 59 per cent said they were most focused on their website experience to grow readers. In line with this, 50 per cent listed Google organic traffic as their main traffic source. 

This suggests that publishers within this segment are focused on SEO strategies to grow their audience. 

Only 23 per cent of these publishers cited content quality as their strategy to grow readership, and none of them listed optimising their ad stack as a goal. 

Marfeel says “It’s at this point traffic switches from mainly social to mainly organic. These readers are harder to acquire. So rather than scare them off with an over-aggressive ad stack, publishers are targeting that exponential growth by turning a one-click reader into a 10-click reader.” 

Publishers with the largest audiences are looking to diversify revenue 

Marfeel found that publishers surveyed with the largest audiences (10-100 million average monthly sessions), are: 

  • 44 per cent listed revenue diversification as their main business goal 
  • 138 per cent more likely than publishers with less traffic to list direct traffic as their main traffic source
  • Only 13 per cent list social media as their main traffic source. 

“It’s not until we reach publishers with the biggest audience that we see a strategy predominantly based around revenue diversification and optimisation,” says Marfeel. 

“Publishers know their readers are loyal and will keep returning. So now they can work on increasing the margin from each visit through revenue diversification.” 

Within the Australian publishing context, I’d expect publishers that had reached the majority of audience within their particular niche to act in a similar way. 

Publishers of all sizes focus on reader acquisition over reader retention 

Marfeel says that, despite the value of reader retention, publishers of all sizes tend to focus on reaching new readers, with 67 per cent saying they place more emphasis on new user acquisition. 

In addition, 29 per cent say they will focus on social media to re-engage their audiences, with 37 per cent creating more short-form content to capture social traffic, and 31 per cent looking to create more video content in 2020. 

Only 9 per cent of the publishers surveyed intend to use e-newsletters to re-engage their readers. 

Marfeel says “Traditional techniques such as email newsletters and events may be struggling as audiences become less committed to single news sources. Even content aggregation, despite its profile bump, is failing to light up audience professionals in 2020.” 

The low rate of publishers surveyed that intend to use e-newsletters to re-engage subscribers may point to a limited number of B2B publications surveyed. 

Regardless of your audience size, the growth stages 

Marfeel concludes the survey results by saying, “Every publishing success starts with a great story. But, today, a great story alone is not enough. An idea pervades that publishers have to go through all the stages shown in this report in order to grow. First content, then experience, then monetization, but no-one should run before they can walk.” 

The mobile publishing platform says that a key takeaway from this survey is that publishers at every stage, should focus on what is working for them now, but be aware that, given the dynamic nature of the industry, successful strategies that work one day, can fail the next.

To read the full report, access Marfeel’s The Big Publisher Survey of 2020 here

I’d be really interested to hear what you think about Marfeel’s findings. Do they fit your experience, and understanding of the Australian niche publishing sector? Comment below. 

Written by Lyndsie Clark

Targeted Media Services Network Founder and Editor Lyndsie Clark has over 12 years of niche publishing experience, working in a variety of roles spanning B2B editorial, sales, operations, events, BD, and management.


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