Commentary

As Tech Giants Offer Less Support, Paid Subs Become A Publisher's Priority

Publishers say tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are less supportive of the industry than they were a year ago — and paid subscriptions are a bigger priority. That's the message from a survey of publishers by German media giant Axel Springer at this month’s International Paid Content Summit in Berlin.

U.S. participants included The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times, while most of the 34 publishers were from Europe, including the Financial Times, Guardian, Le Figaro, Schibsted, Axel Springer’s Bild and Business Insider.

The percentage of publishers that said readers are more willing to pay for content rose from 70% in 2018 to 79% this year, per Axel Springer’s survey. As recently as 2016, only 56% of publishers said readers were more willing to pay.

More than half of respondents said paid subscriptions will be their most important revenue line this year, making it more important than native and display advertising. In addition, 82% of participants said paid content is an integral part of their strategy.

Publishers are also warier of tech giants that are gatekeepers to digital content, especially after Facebook changed its news feed last year to put greater emphasis on user-generated posts.

That caution toward tech companies is a healthy sign, considering that Google, Facebook and Amazon are formidable competitors for digital ad dollars. While many publishers don’t have the same kind of global scale that Silicon Valley has in digital media, they can highlight their advantages in reaching more selective audiences.

Publishers can provide content with more added value and editorial discretion, something that’s lacking on Facebook and Google’s YouTube. The platforms feed on controversies about disinformation.

This week, YouTube again demonstrated its incapacity to prevent easily identifiable abuses as a video blogger posted a bombshell report detailing how children are sexually exploited on the platform. McDonald’s, Nestlé, GNC, Canada Goose and “Fortnite” maker Epic Games halted their ad placements on YouTube after the report.

Google on Wednesday hosted a conference call with media buyers to do damage control, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. Company executives pledged to deliver a timeline in 24 hours showing new restrictions and product changes.

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