Digital Publishing in 2023: What’s On the Horizon

Innovation has always been a driving force for the digital publishing industry, often born out of necessity. However, this is an unprecedented time for many, with economic headwinds, changing reader habits, and ever-emerging technologies testing the resilience of even the most established media organizations. The Digiday Publishing Summit recently held in Vail, Colorado, gathered high-profile executives and experts to discuss strategies that can help publishers innovate and transform once again. 

With the industry at a crossroad, here are 3 key areas we believe publishers should consider in order to build toward a more sustainable future.

1)  Diversifying revenue models 

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that, as publishers, we need to have multiple avenues of “survival” that are in line with what our readers want. Revenue diversification is both key to survival and accelerating revenue growth. 

Publishers are in a unique position to capitalize on their audience knowledge and generate revenue from their content effectively, whether it be through newsletters, podcasts, subscriptions, events, or other offerings. Ultimately, it comes down to harnessing those growth opportunities. For example, Dotdash Meredith and Reviewed are capitalizing on the opportunity to economically scale through product offers; The Atlantic has a very diversified strategy with a strong focus on subscriptions; Leaf Group sees tremendous ongoing opportunity with experiential events; Wirecutter has seen success with newsletter strategies. With multiple potential avenues of success, publishers can innovate by creating a more resilient business that is less reliant on any one source of revenue.  And the truth is, nearly all publishers have multiple avenues of revenue generation. The question they are asking is: “What is the most valuable action we can ask a user to take at any given time?”  

2)  Optimizing the digital opportunity

A sustainable business model also means balancing revenue objectives and forging deeper relationships with readers. Publishers have enlisted many initiatives intended to drive deeper engagement (podcasts), build community (newsletters and events), grow and retain audiences (subscriptions), and support their journalism (e-commerce). However, with thousands of users, each with unique needs, interests, and preferences, the manual CMS systems they are using make it impossible to customize every user experience across a myriad of content and commerce offerings.

As a result, artificial intelligence (AI) has become a focus for long-term success. In fact, according to a study by WNIP, nearly 1 in 3 publishers look at AI to personalize content and experiences.

And it’s not just ChatGPT that’s creating a buzz for new digital opportunities. Outbrain listened to its publisher partners and their concerns by engineering Keystone, an all-in-one platform for publishers to serve journey-enhancing offerings, driving conversions across multiple initiatives and aligning the user experience with a multitude of business needs. This need was echoed throughout the conference, with publishers recognizing they have different types of traffic converting on different things and their challenge is to meet people’s needs, not just to deliver the best experiences but so they may optimize for revenue across the organization. 

3)  Testing new ideas and strategies

Waiting for the industry to stabilize is not an option, and publishers must take an active approach to finding ways to accelerate their growth. Audiences look to them for information on a variety of topics – what they can buy, where to go, what to read – and publishers hold the responsibility to provide those answers via relevant, high-quality content and services. One publisher said there’s not enough real estate to do all they want to do, and they need to be mindful not to put something in front of a user just because they think it is valuable. It has to be important to that user, at that time. And so she questioned, “Which pieces of the puzzle get prioritized as part of the user journey?” 

While innovation is an essential aspect of the industry, successful revenue streams, as all things, are subject to ebbs and flows – and every publisher benefits differently. Local and regional media, for example, might find themselves more vulnerable than national and global organizations. Diversified revenue streams put publishers in a prime position to weather the ups and downs of the industry and maintain financial stability. Anticipating change and testing new strategies provides publishers with the unique opportunity to better engage, drive user value, and increase their bottom line. The industry is home to many creative minds, and publisher sites provide a platform for testing new ideas and strategies to stay ahead of the curve. 

Ultimately, the decisions made today will shape the industry of tomorrow. By embracing new approaches and actively looking to evolve, publishers can best be in position to support their business in the years to come. As we look toward the future, it is clear that those who are willing to adapt and innovate will be the ones who thrive.

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