She said to me (I am paraphrasing), “We were in such a rush to do all these new things the past five years, we didn’t stop and question why we were doing them.” Her goal in 2017 is to not do something new — but rather, to identify what her company needs to stop doing to help its publishing business.
She’s so right.
Now is the time for publishers to figure out what they need to stop doing. They can’t keep building on top of cracks in the foundation of digital publishing. There is structural damage that needs to be fixed if this business wants to remain standing.
For example, Web pages shake a few seconds after consumers land on them. This happens because publishers agree to display ads that are too heavy, and when these ads finish loading, the content moves on the page, causing users to lose their place in the story they chose to read. How did that become acceptable in the business of publishing?
Publishers need to rebuild their entire sites from the ground up. If the idea of starting from scratch sounds impossible, or you wouldn’t know where to start, there is a new publishing ray of hope to follow: Axios.com.
The political news/business/media/tech site launched this month. There's so much this group of mostly former folks from Politico.com got right.
1. Axios serves editorial with grace and style. Most sites fail to use photos effectively to help tell all the stories they publish. They include forgettable pictures — and worse, squeeze them into thumbnails that make no impact on the user’s emotions.
A photo that accompanies editorial is like art to copy in advertising: It works better when all elements work together. Axios uses exceptional photos universally sized with each story it publishes.
On day one of its launch, Axios.com did photojournalism better than any other publisher on the Web.
2. It serves editorial with respect. Axios publishes brief stories in a news stream. For its longer stories, Axios starts with an opening paragraph and then displays its publishing brilliance by displaying a grey shaded box that says “Keep Reading,” followed by the actual number of words the rest of the story contains. The reader can then choose to click on that box, and the rest of the story appears without generating a refreshed page view.
If I sold for Axios, I would present the click-through rates on those “keep reading” boxes. They will be off the charts.
3. It serve videos content without auto-play or pre-roll ads. It appears Axios will present limited video content, which will be edited segments from press conferences at the White House, for example, or other videos produced by other news outlets. These videos only play when you click to play them. The site has yet to serve a pre-roll ad, and my guess is it won’t.
Pre-roll ads were never a good long-term business idea but a short-term scam. You can tell Axios principals have a clear vision of what they want their future to look like.
One mistake Axios is making is auto-playing videos that accompany some of the sponsored-content ads sold. The sound is muted until the user clicks to add volume, but even so, it looks like the editors lost an arm-wrestling match with the ad-sales team on this point. Hope they win the rematch.
Axios sells sponsored-content ads served in-stream so clearly marked they include the advertiser’s logo in the heading, so there is no mistaking it’s an ad with content. As for display ads, Axios serves one ad unit per page, fixed along the lefthand rail so it is always in view. Currently this unit just rotates the logos of the site’s launch sponsors.
Display ads from the right kinds of companies add credibility to a Web site. I suspect, or encourage, that Axios will sell rotating display ads inside this single designated ad unit at some point — but only if doing so doesn’t cause the site to shake.
What Axios is doing so differently from any other publisher on the Web is subtly reminding users at every turn that the site is subservient to their needs.
That’s how publishing works. If you’re doing things that send the opposite message, you have to put them on your list of things to stop doing this year if you want to stay in business.