Five predictions for the future of publishing

More than a month after the public release of Apple’s iOS 9, each day is bringing new surprises, dramas and lessons for the digital media world. We’ve accelerated towards an ad blocking apocalypse thanks to iOS 9, failed to see the rollout of the Apple News app in the UK (though you can access it if you really want to), and seen the launch of its rival Facebook Signal.

We’ve also witnessed the sudden rise and equally sudden disappearance of ad blocking app Peace, with Apple now also removing some ad-blockers that it deems to pose a security risk to users.

The latest analysis shows that iOS 9 adoption is happening at record speed, so publishers need to move quickly to take advantage of Apple’s software shakeup and adapt accordingly. Outside the Cupertino universe, there are some wider trends in the media that they should also be planning for. Below are a few key changes which are set to hit the publishing world in the near future.

1. There will be more deals between publishers and tech companies

The desire for hits, impressions and revenue is rapidly pushing news companies into the arms of the social giants. We’re at a stage where venerable global brands such as the New York Times and the Guardian are partnering with Facebook and Apple. They’re upstarts when it comes to news, yes, but their massive user bases are enticing publishers with promises of millions of newer and (crucially) younger readers.

With Apple’s News app – which aims to combine the immersive design of a print magazine with interactivity of digital media – Apple has seen this opportunity, and by the time of its announcement, it could already boast 50 different publisher partners in the US. This wouldn’t have happened five years ago, but forward-thinking media companies are now much more open to this, as they see social as a way of monetising content – it’s effectively a new distribution channel. We’ll have to wait for the appearance of Apple News in the UK to see the lasting effects on publishers here.

2. Apple faces a tough fight with Facebook

Companies like Apple and Facebook have huge, incredibly rich data sets, allowing them to craft content portals that will keep millions of users within their walled gardens. While the barrier to entry for a consumer is very low for Facebook, the bar is slightly higher for iOS devices. And while there are plenty of iOS users out there who can be reached through Apple’s News app, the problem is that Apple hasn’t really solved the thorny problem of app engagement yet. Most people use very few of the apps that they have on their handset, so while the News app is all very well, are people going to use it regularly?

Meanwhile, networks like Facebook and Snapchat have engagement nailed down– users are coming back repeatedly and dwelling for a long time while they’re there. And in the past few months, Facebook has overtaken Google as a traffic source for news content. One of the predominant reasons for this is the highly personalised nature of social networks, and publishers looking to create compelling experiences through these platforms will need to bear this in mind.

3. All content will be personalised

Networks like Facebook enable publishers to better know their audience, and then deliver the right content for that person at the right time. There has been a lot of experimentation with personalisation from media companies, but consumers looking for personalised news feeds often turn to tools like Feedly and Flipboard. This reflects the fact that in the news space, no one has really nailed personalisation yet.

Apple’s News app, with its emphasis on a personalised experience, may well change this. Looking at the entertainment space, Netflix and Spotify are just some of the players that have mastered this on-demand, personalised model and proved that it works. (It’s worth noting that Google experimented with personalised news feeds with Google Reader, but it closed down in 2013 – a possible hint that achieving this will not be straightforward.)

4. Quality journalism will continue to thrive; paywalls may prosper

The frantic hunt for clicks is consuming traditional media outlets, forcing them to think about omnichannel strategy and online engagement rather than their unique selling point – quality reporting. Too many have tried to create content for content’s sake, despite competing against native platforms like BuzzFeed that have far more direct expertise in that world.

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