Wheat From The Chaff -- How Publishers Must Strive To Survive

Any impartial observer to the plight of publishing as it swaps dollars for dimes in the transition between print and digital cannot help but identify an obvious unused tactic. To survive, the wheat needs to sort itself from the chaff. Decent publishers need to stop being seen in the same light as a high school student's blog or train time results. They need to be flagged up to advertisers as reputable, big players with lucrative audiences.

That's why I found this week's research from InSkin Media, Research Now and Conquest Research (quite a mouthful) particularly interesting. It doesn't help publishers flag themselves as reputable, but it does increase the stakes. It shows publishers that ads perform much better on branded publisher sites, particularly if a reader is a regular visitor. 

The big figure to bear in mind is that brand consideration increased 152% when an advertiser was seen on branded publisher sites by a regular reader -- it was a 60% uplift if the site was branded but the reader was not a regular. The news wasn't quite as positive with non-regular readers for brand empathy and warmth, which rose just 1% and 7% when an ad was shown on a branded publisher site compared to a non-branded site. However, for regular readers, the two figures rose 20% and 33%, respectively.

In sum, brand consideration leaps when an ad is shown on a branded site -- and for regular readers it shoots through the roof with significant gains for brand empathy and warmth. They sound a little fuzzy as measures, but I think we get the picture. If advertisers pay to have their messages on decent, branded publications and if they prioritise regular readers, their campaigns will be all the more effective. 

It also kind of screams out to publishers to separate out these regular readers. For a subscription-based publication that is obviously very simple to do, while for a free site users can be tracked by the regularity of their visits to flag them up as more loyal and so a better prospect to ensure a campaign hits home -- as long as it's a pertinent message for them, of course.

It's interesting because I was talking about this very same subject just a few weeks ago with the managing director of 1XL. It may sound like an oversized shirt, or the name the middle-aged members of 1D will reform under when they are broke and need the cash, but it's actually a coming together of (mostly) local news groups to sell inventory at scale. Its big rallying call is that not all content is equal and should not be treated as such. I cc'd my MP, Ed Vaizey, the former Culture Minister, into the discussion -- and he agreed it's a very promising idea to have a kitemark for responsible, well-read publications.

I suspect this is where Trinity Mirror and The Economist were going with their recent adoption of Google's Trust Indicators, which basically requires publishers to be up front about who funds them and each piece of copy, who the journalist and why they can be trusted to cover the topic as well as all sources of information flagged up.

I'm wondering, however, if the Coalition for Better Ads has a big role to play here. It can award tags to decent publishers that vow to stop annoying readers with intrusive ad formats. However, it can't necessarily speak to the veracity of a publisher's or writer's words and pictures.

So perhaps we need a joint standard here -- a kitemark that deals with the latter point and incorporates those signed up, and adhering to, the Coalition for Better Ads guidance on acceptable formats. Surely it will only be a good thing for decent publishers to be allowed to stand out from the crowd, and it can only help that they ditched unacceptable ad formats in the process. 

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