Dynamism has returned to the news business. I expected as much last October when I put together my My Watch List for 2014. After a decade of turmoil, there were clear signs that news executives — far more so than newsrooms — were ready for change. Where the business goes, journalists will ultimately follow, kicking and screaming all the way. Since I wrote that post, here are 15 blips that keep moving in and out of my radar screen.
1. Startups: Young digital news companies are getting loads of attention. Traditional media reporters cooing over the new ventures ignore a critical point: making money. Each startup enters a world of programmatic ad buying and mobile consumption. Both put downward pressure on ad rates. VC money (even multiple rounds) goes only so far for startup labor models that mimic old ones.
2. Native Advertising: It marches forward — often confusingly so as publishers and marketers stretch the phrase for revenue purposes and new editorial products. In its newest app, The New York Times includes a “paid post” (the company’s label for native ads) within a news stream that links to a photo of a luxury watch with the flowery promotional language, much like a display ad.
3. Platforms: Great publishing tools make for lots of content, both good and not-so-good depending on editorial management systems (FORBES learned that the hard way). Both Medium and Tumblr offer a glimpse into next-generation, visually-based tool sets for eager content creators.
4. Long-form content: It’s fancy jargon (never to be adopted by consumers) for magazine stories and 3000-word newspaper articles. Sports Illustrated proudly says it’s been “Longform since 1954.” The sees its Snowfall pages as next-gen storytelling. For startup sites, it’s a hoped-for way to achieve gravitas to attract advertising. In referring to Snowfall, Raju Narisetti of Dow Jones was really addressing all new long-form efforts when he said the page views were “empty calories” because they didn’t generate much revenue.
5. Verticals: Media reporters have suddenly discovered the power of publishing platforms, including Medium, Vox, Kinja and FORBES. The underlining story is the potential to build new content verticals — a la Henry Luce — that focus on niches, or Web information ecosystems, not big subject categories.
6. Data: The Web is all about the numbers. In this post, Tony Haile from Chartbeat challenges with a certain academic precision what we believe to be true about clicks, sharing, native ads and banners. The real battle ground will soon be none of the above. Ad “viewability,” or the measurement of how many times at least 50% of an ad is visible on a screen, is the new battlefield.
7. Apps: The magazine experience is a format that should fit nicely into the app world. Flipboard is showing the way but most single titles have yet to produce the magic consumers are looking for. This chart shows that 25% of the best-selling tablet digital replica editions account for just 12% of total subscriptions. FORBES itself has a ways to go. Our focus: integrating clipping and sharing from the app itself into a browser-based mobile social stream that drives consumers deep into the app.
8. Video: Marketers can’t buy enough inventory. As for most consumers, they still prefer the speed of reading or scanning a text. Just ask The NYT, which couldn’t deliver enough video streams for a few big ad buys. The story is the same — but different — for so-called multi-channel sites built around 18-34 year old fanboys. Machinima, with 10 million YouTube subscribers and billions of monthly streams, stills struggles for profitability when YouTube takes 45% of ad revenue.
9. Ebooks: They’re a great way to jump on a newsy subject and offer readers a concise package. The FORBES Signature Series ebook program aims to achieve that. Staff writer Kashmir Hill, who lived on Bitcoin for a week, came out with Secret MoneyInside Obamacare, a look into the President’s health initiatives in his Chicago years.
10. Commenting: How do you make them part of the story itself, or at least more tied to the narrative flow? The New York Times and Medium enable readers to expose comments to the right of a post. Some sites offer annotation within paragraphs, as does a new release from Livefyre. Gawker wants to turn commenters into a new kind of journalist on its Kinja platform. Still, commenting is the Web’s version of The 1%, making it a monetization side show for most news sites.
11. Mobile: The 300 x 250 pixel banner ad remains the bad boy of monetization efforts — agencies love to diss their poor clickthrough and native ad purists (Jonah Peretti) see no place for them on the social Web. Well, they’ve found a new home on smartphones. Many sites place scaled down versions within a story or between natural breaks in the flow of editorial (FORBES does both).
12. Events: Publishers are hunting for revenue. Advertisers are on the look-out for real people. Events solve both needs. That’s why they’re once again on the rise. For years, The FORBES Global CEO Summit took center stage. Next up, our Women’s Summit. This month’s Reinventing America Summit in Chicago is likely to spawn many more “reinvention” get-togethers.
13. Ad products: Computer science is going beyond programmatic buying to the actual creation of premium video inventory. One product in development is a different kind of pay wall in which consumers “pay” for content with their attention, not their money. Want to read the next paragraph, watch this ad first. Check this out.
14. Newsletters: Standard pay walls remain dubious. They generate subscriber revenue but deter audiences. A certain consumer will cough up cash for newsletter experts who offer deep dives into certain subjects. FORBES has dozens of investing newsletters. In the months ahead we’ll launch a new set of screens and a registration system that will far more integrate them into our platform experience.
15. Pay for traffic: FORBES contributor Gordon Kelly is one of nearly 200 journalists who participate in our compensation program. His recent post on Windows 8.1 prodded Microsoft to switch from a 30-day upgrade window to 120 days. “It’s been an amazing four months,” he says. “Now 24 stories published and 1.9 million visitors. Certainly seems like the future of publishing to me!”
What to look for from FORBES? A continued focus on contributors and scaling our platform will result in a new luxury vertical with a photo-centric look-and-feel and an entirely new navigational construct. The new stream-based mobile site we launched months ago will continue to evolve (think Ebooks and newsletters) as consumer adoption of mobile devices shows no signs of slowing down. A new ad product built around our popular “Thought of the Day” promises a new stream of sponsorship revenue. As the news industry picks up the pace, so will our product development. As I say every day at FORBES, “faster, faster, faster.”