Publishers' opportunities to grow in 2017 may be hampered by the state of the economy, investment in technology and lack of adequate skills to keep up with the fast changes.
But media organisations are optimistic their revenues will increase and that their brand will be more valued by their audiences, a new report from The Media Briefing has found.
Launched yesterday (26 October), The State of the Media 2017 features results from a survey of top-level publishing executives from 30 countries, with 60 per cent of respondents showing confidence in the growth of both their own revenues and the perceived value of their brand.
The report reviewed key trends, opportunities and challenges in 12 publishing areas, including data, video, mobile and social media, and monetisation options across digital display advertising, e-commerce and sponsored content.
Publishers identified sponsored content, data and video as their top three areas for growth, planning to invest more in them in 2017. Moreover, 45.3 per cent named sponsored content as one of their top three revenue sources for next year, followed by digital display advertising and print.
Also on the revenue side, 21.9 per cent of respondents saw memberships and paywalls as the "most difficult" for their businesses to implement in the coming year, followed by data (18.5 per cent) and e-commerce (13.2 per cent). However, 29 per cent had already implemented "shoppable content" on their digital properties to some extent, and 40 per cent said they were "testing the waters".
"Publishers are very clear about the need to become more present in their audiences’ lives, engage them more effectively and, of course, sell them more," Peter Houston, author and editor-at-large of The Media Briefing, wrote in the paper.
Off-platform services such as Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles were only a priority for growth and investment for 15 per cent of those surveyed, and the complicated relationship between publishers and Facebook was also brought up – 62 per cent saw the platform as the "biggest threat to their business", while 45 per cent identified it more as an opportunity.
The report analysed off-platform and social media separately, with initiatives such as Facebook Instant Articles falling under the first category and activity on publishers' Facebook pages placed in the latter category under community engagement. While social media is still about "content distribution at scale", the author wrote, "sharing is no longer enough".
Only 58.4 per cent of publishers said they use social media for content distribution. Some 56.9 per cent use it to build recognition around their brand and 71.5 per cent use it for audience development.
The survey found media outlets are "moving beyond vanity metrics based on likes and follower counts" to "focus on action" that could lead to monetisation, giving readers access to otherwise paid-for content, getting them to register on the website, subscribe to the publication or sign up for a newsletter.
Investment in mobile occupied fourth place in publishers' list of priorities in 2017, while the general consensus among respondents seem to be that "there is no such thing as a mobile strategy anymore, every strategy is mobile," Houston said at the launch of the report in London yesterday.
"This is driving on other areas such as email, but that is a connection people aren't making just yet."
He pointed out that the potential of email had been dismissed by most organisations surveyed, despite the fact that time spent with email has risen 17 per cent year-on-year and people ages 18 to 34 are "spending the most time with email of any age group, primarily on their smartphones".
Newsletters give publishers an opportunity to control and tailor who they distribute content to, he added, an option which has only recently started to become more available on social platforms, and it also allows them to track traffic referrals easier.
"From a revenue standpoint, email can be positioned as a premium product, with a premium price point.
"It may be unglamorous when compared to the latest app, but the metrics are clear and modern email systems can deliver an identified audience with segmentation and even personalisation," Houston wrote.
Some outlets are already relying on newsletters to reach their niche audiences with news briefings and top stories in this format – The New York Times has expanded its email offering from 30 newsletters to 50 in the last year, Houston said, using it for different sections of the website but also to send breaking news updates, and Quartz launched a Spanish-language version of its popular Daily Brief newsletter yesterday.
"The overarching theme in this report is that all these pieces have to work together," Houston told Journalism.co.uk.
"Publishers can't do email separate from mobile, or e-commerce separate from everything else. But making all these different pieces fit together, that's the big challenge."
The full State of the Media 2017 report is available to download for free on The Media Briefing website.