2021 Preview: 'Year Of The Vaccine' Won't Hinder Digital Shift For Publishers

  • by December 31, 2020
The breakthrough results for several coronavirus vaccines have led to speculation that 2021 will bring back some sense of normalcy to many businesses, including publishers that have survived another year of relentless disruption. Mass inoculations during the "Year of the Vaccine" are likely to lessen the threat of COVID-19, but its effect on publishers will be long-lasting.
The publishing industry will be caught between the push toward more technological innovation and the pull of more traditional ways of doing things in 2021. With that mind, I'm offering my predictions that will define the coming year for publishers, including everything from their day-to-day operations to changes in the ad marketplace.
Consumer Privacy: Next year will bring many more developments in tracking online audiences while working to improve consumer privacy. California is expected to be more proactive about enforcing privacy laws that help set the tone for the entire country, giving consumers greater control over how their data are shared.

Technology companies like Google and Apple have responded to concerns about data privacy in various ways that will affect publishers in the coming year. In 2022, Google plans to end support for third-party cookies in its popular Chrome browser, while next year, Apple intends to notify consumers when apps want access to device identifiers in products like the iPhone.

The limitations on online audience tracking won't necessarily spell doom for publishers, which have other ways of helping advertisers reach target audiences. Contextual-based ad placements are a key selling point, especially since publishers can provide a brand-safe environment that isn't guaranteed on social media and video-sharing platforms that rely on user-generated content. 
First-Party Data Gain Value: Amid the concerns about privacy and limitations on audience tracking, publishers can continue to collect first-party data about their audiences to help advertisers with their targeting, and provide greater transparency to consumers and marketers. It's a win-win-win situation with consumers seeing more relevant ads, marketers improving the efficiency of their media buys and publishers boosting the value of their ad inventories.
Publishers also can provide greater peace of mind for readers by pledging they won't sell personal data to third parties, helping to form stronger relationships built on trust. Consumers want useful information, and advertising that isn't too intrusive or invasive -- which publishers can provide. As publishers seek to boost the value of their ad inventories, they're also likely to re-evaluate their programmatic sales to limit open auctions and seek more private marketplace deals.
More Content and Commerce: Last year, I had predicted publishers would boost their ecommerce efforts to help offset declines in ad revenue. Of course, I didn't expect a global pandemic to drive a surge in ecommerce activity as homebound consumers boosted their online shopping while avoiding stores.

The coronavirus vaccine is likely to help shoppers feel more comfortable about going to stores again, though many others have grown to appreciate the convenience of home delivery. Publishers will continue to boost their ecommerce efforts, either through affiliate programs or direct sales from their online stores. Ecommerce will become more important in the next decade, especially as the digital ad market reaches maturity.

Rethinking the Office: Publishers are among the businesses grappling with the issue of when and how they can safely bring back people to offices, and whether they will need as much office space as they had before the pandemic.
Companies can require their employees to get a coronavirus vaccine and prevent them from stepping foot in the workplace if they refuse, according to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Before setting a policy on vaccinations, publishers should consult an employment lawyer to ensure they're complying with the law.
For publishers that have determined they can function well with a virtual workforce, they may seek alternative arrangements for employees who prefer working from home. The pandemic showed how many companies can function without an office, but there's still a lot to be said for having a place where people can meet, collaborate, avoid domestic distractions and get things done efficiently.
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