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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

Digiday Publishing Product Leaders Retreat recap

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

July was a busy month here at Trinity Audio. With the summer being a hotspot (pun intended) of industry-related events, we hopped on a plane and landed in the US – the center of the audio industry. Ron (our CEO) went to the VOICE Summit in New Jersey while Liat (our business development rep) and I went north a bit and attended the Digiday Publishing Product Leaders Retreat in New Paltz, New York.

New Paltz, New York

View from the site.

Over the course of 24 hours, the event hosted some of the world’s (but mainly US) most influential product leaders and managers in publishing who delved deep into the challenges publishers face The first-ever Digiday Publishing Product Leaders Retreat was different from what we usually see when we attend these types of events as they usually revolve around sales or business development. In any case, here are my observations.

There’s huge passion for publishing

Even before the event officially began, what immediately impressed me was the fact that everyone I met and talked to had this positive outlook. They were eager to share about various challenges they are facing, the way their peers are facing them, as well as learning about the new developments in the publishing world and understanding what they mean on a deeper level. If I had to take a guess, I’d say 95% of the people present didn’t miss a single minute of every lecture. You don’t see that level of dedication and passion often.

Liat and me with Dan Shar from Dow Jones and Kevin Murphy from DistroScale.

Liat and me with Dan Shar from Dow Jones and Kevin Murphy from DistroScale.

Publishers are facing a lot of challenges

There’s too many to list them all but trust me when I say it’s not easy being a publisher. When the organizers said that “everything from the mechanics of subscription offerings to developing email products that audiences love, to data strategy” will be discussed, it was clear there’s a lot of ground to cover in this complex dynamic landscape. Here’s my breakdown of the 5 core challenges that were discussed:

I’ll start with monetization, as that’s where the money is – literally. One of the prominent trends is the move from the ad model toward the subscriptions/membership model, and the differences between a subscription and a membership. There was a lot of talk about the way subscriptions should be implemented because the industry hasn’t yet figured out the objectively correct way to add a paywall within the ecosystem. Basically, your garden-variety revenue vs user experience dilemma and finding the perfect balance.

Creating some sort of community around the publishers themselves and their content and pushing the membership model is tough because there’s no clear way to make users more engaged with the site and feel as a part of it.

There’s an interesting tactic some publishers are using: having an open line of communication to the editors or people working in the publishing company so that the community members actually influence the content in some way.

Then, there’s the slow death of the cookie, as Greg Emerson, Head of Product at HuffPost calls it, which is giving publishers serious headaches. GDPR hurt the publishing business a lot because it took away a significant portion of European audience and the new data protection changes taking place in the US (California Consumer Privacy Act) are threatening to cause further damage, not only in the sense of fewer subscriptions and memberships but also in the reduced ability to segment and match the right content for the user. If there’s any business that is highly reliant on cookies, it’s publishing.

Finally, I’ll quickly mention the increased application of affiliate marketing and going beyond placing links to focusing on selling through the website directly, the dilemma about news aggregators and their ROI: publishers need to invest money in order to integrate with each aggregator but these lack monetization options and don’t really encourage users to engage with the publisher but on the other hand – how can you not be a part of them, and AMP – accelerated mobile pages – as something that’s Google pushing for mobile web in terms of compliance, which gets you a better SEO score and subsequently more money but also costs a lot of money and it’s not easy to be compliant. Once you make that integration, it’s tough to go back.

Oren Liberman Selfie

{insert random selfie} Check.

Audio and voice are just an afterthought

To be fair, audio and voice technology got more mentions than I originally anticipated but that still can be summed up as borderline interest. Maybe it’s because of the entire concept of the conference where the focus was on publishing challenges. Probably the only one who touched upon our bread and butter was Sabrina H. Eldredge, VP of Product at POPSUGAR, where she briefly mentioned smart speakers, audio content and voice technology as one of the things they are already investing in.

I can see why audio and voice technology didn’t get much attention. These are relatively new technologies currently reserved for early adopters, except for a small group of publishers who are looking ahead of the curve and have already invested or are looking into it. And even so, that’s only a small part of their day-to-day challenges.

As it stands now, there are too many question marks. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that a publisher that isn’t partaking in the ongoing audio revolution is asleep at the wheel. Soon, offering a listening experience will be mandatory, just like it’s offering a print experience and not having an online presence. A good deal of publishers actually do have Alexa skills or Google Actions and have their own podcasts but they don’t know how to generate revenue, bring in new clients out of them and make it a scalable operation.

What they do know is that they need to invest in audio content and voice technology but don’t know how exactly. Right now, it’s not something they are focused on. Still, this is a great time for them to test the waters and uncover the overall importance of audio and the possibilities it brings. Not understanding the big picture means every publisher that doesn’t offer a listening experience is at risk of hurting their bottom revenue line and losing audience to other platforms.

One super intense day

So that’s the scoop from the two days of Digiday Publishing Product Leaders Retreat. A lot of discussions, a lot of challenges the industry is facing, and a lot of brainstorming on how to overcome them. It was an enjoyable event that showed us there is a great deal to digest from the publishing side. However, it validated that audio content and voice technology must be an integral part of publishers’ future strategy. We’ll keep working to make that happen.

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