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December 19, 2019 | Lucy Tozer

2020 Publishing Predictions with Simon Fry

As we’re approaching the end of an interesting 12 months for the publishing industry we’re reflecting on some of the major events that have affected publishers, such as the introduction of Apple News+ and the continued fight against the digital advertising duopoly. We thought it would be a good time for us to sit down with our newly-appointed Product Director, Simon Fry, to see what he thinks 2020 will bring…

Subscriptions
“I think we will see a continuation in the move of publishers to drive direct revenue from consumers in the face of uncertainty in the advertising market and fear of being at the mercy of platforms when it comes to web traffic numbers. We already work with the major players in the subscription and payment space such as MPP Global & Piano, established print subscription providers and new entrants to the market such as Zephr. Increasingly we’re looking to set up our services so that integrations with any provider of subscription services can be completed quickly. Flexible paywalls will become the norm as publishers look to integrate services that provide some kind of propensity to subscribe model derived from their data.”

Platforms
“Apple News will continue to prosper in terms of users and traffic numbers, as it becomes the default way of many iOS users finding news, current affairs and even magazine content. I’m not sold on Apple News+ as a service and it doesn’t surprise me that growth of subscriptions for them has slowed since the initial burst. It’s unclear what I’m getting from that service as a consumer and there is an overriding feeling that it’s only a selection of the content from the publishers I want. Despite various European battles against Google and Facebook I expect those two to continue to be the biggest drivers of traffic to news sites.”

Audio
“While engagement with audio will continue to rise, I can see small to medium publishers starting to pull back from it unless they can see a clear path to monetisation. Subscription seems to be the most sensible play here and offering premium content over audio as part of a subscription news service is clearly working for some publishers.”

Products
“The thing that’s really surprised me since joining PageSuite has been the continued strength of the replica ePaper in markets outside of the UK. Coming from a background in UK newspapers, the replica ePaper was often seen as a halfway house to digital transformation. However it’s clear from talking to our US clients and those in other parts of the world that there is still great demand for something that looks and feels exactly like a newspaper. Where I think this will get even more interesting next year is the increase in publishers looking to create new digital products alongside their replica ePaper. We had a great launch in 2019 with the Dallas Morning News Evening Edition, and there’s already appetite from other publishers to create evening editions or special editions from digital content alongside the replica ePaper in their apps. Offering this to a highly-engaged userbase like your replica audience is a great way to increase the value of your digital content and retain subscribers.”

“The other trend we’re seeing as we talk to clients both in the UK and elsewhere is the desire to move to one app that can provide both a live news and edition-based reading experience. There has traditionally been a split between the (usually older) audience favouring an edition-based reading experience and the audience who prefer live breaking news, however there is beginning to be more of a crossover and an increasing desire for both an on-the-go mobile-first live news reading experience and the option to read a completable edition to get a curated summary of the news. Combining our new Live product with our Edition app is something we’re really excited about for the new year to be able to provide all of that plus the ability for publishers to use digital content to create new Editions.”

AI/AR/VR/ML etc:
“I suspect there will be ongoing talk about AR, VR, AI and ML, but I’m still sceptical about the applications of both AR and VR for publishers. Having lived through a pretty poor implementation of Blippar AR tech on the i in the early days of 2013 I still don’t see any consumer value in it for newspapers, the only way I can see this breaking through is through determination from print advertisers to make use of the tech. For AI and ML I think we will see more uses of robo-journalism. The BBC used this to create an article for every constituency on election night which is a great way of dealing with a huge amount of data and presenting it in a more natural way for users. There has been some really interesting work in Scandinavia doing similar things with local football league results and house sales – creating articles that would not have existed without the use of the technology.”

“I’d like to see us working on AI and ML to improve our products for our customers, rather than an end in itself. Predicting when to send an edition to download to an end user because we know they’re about to leave home and get on the train, or leave the office and want something to read on their commute for example. Or more simple uses like determining the best time for our publishers to send notifications based on analytics data, location and audience.”

…and outside of publishing??
“Outside of the publishing world, more disruption to traditional businesses through online services, in particular banks and financial services, spreading into mortgage provision and pensions; much less talk about bitcoin and blockchain as the future of everything; Amazon to make another grab at groceries, probably through acquisition but most likely not in the UK; 90s fashion to be the big hit of the year and Derby to make a late push for the playoffs on the back of Wayne Rooney’s triumphant goal-scoring return to the English football league.”

Thanks Simon! If you’ve got any predictions of your own please feel free to comment below…

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