From adblocking to the re-emergence of print:
The 2016 Trend Landscape for Publishers
Key trends to watch in 2016, analyzed in the context of countertrends and associated trends in order to provide a rich context
2015 was a, let’s say, intense year for publishers; and we have every reasons to believe that 2016 is going to be at least as active, but most likely even more overpowering if you are in the media business. How can you prepare yourself for the coming year?
Below is a quick overview of some of the trends that will shape the publishing landscape in the coming year. In order to provide a more precise picture, we have analyzed the trends not only from the standpoint of the dominating trend itself; rather we are including prominent countertrends for each observed trend, as well as associated trends that can amplify or weaken a tentpole trend. Watching all of these aspects in parallel will make it easier to make informed decisions as the year moves on.
Dominating trend: Fragmentation
Adblocking was one of the key topics in 2015, and it will continue to be a major preoccupation in 2016. The key trend to observe is the increasing fragmentation of an already very complex market: more and more competing technologies, and increasingly diversified methods of dealing with ad-blockers
Countertrend: Market Maturation
Adblockers are a warning signal to the ad-tech market and advertisers to re-think on-line advertising from the ground up. We expect a consolidated effort of dealing with the problem from Agencies and advertisers alike, and a lot of communication around it.
Associated trends: Move to distributed content
For many publishers, the move to distributed content platforms such as Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP or Apple News will be an important way of keeping some control of the advertisements readers are presented with.
Dominating trend: Strong adoption, Google AMP and Instant Articles will lead
In 2015, distributed content was mostly talk and no action; 2016 will be the opposite: less talk and a lot of action as distributed content becomes a leading distribution mechanism for mobile news. Expect Google AMP to profoundly change mobile news delivery from a technology standpoint.
Countertrend: Increasing diversification of content offerings for mobile, increasing emergence of long-form content
As distributed content grows in importance, we should expect publishers to experiment with an increasing number and variety of initiatives that are designed to pull readers from social platforms to deeper forms of engagement with a publisher’s brand
Associated trends: Messaging apps as news distribution channels, increased use of adblockers
Some analysts believe that Messaging apps are on the way to overtake social media as news channels. Snapchat was one of the first apps to clearly show this trend. Watch out for other players to jump on the bandwagon.
Dominating trend: Increasing interest and viability of print products
While in the US, print had been declared technically dead for years now, it is clear that there is a slowly growing demand for print-based products, particularly books and magazines. And while Newspapers continue heir downward trend, they are still an important part of news consumption around the world. As digital devices increasingly dominate our lives, physical aspects of print-based products are increasingly appreciated, even by younger readers.
Countertrend: Domination of mobile devices in information gathering
A majority of users now gets their news on mobile devices, and a growing portion of them only use a mobile device for their news consumption, thus re-inforcing a demand for immediacy in news delivery that can make slower forms of delivery seem outdated.
Associated trends: Vinyl records experience a come-back
Vinyl records now make up roughly 30% of physical music sales according to some accounts, and an increasing number of mainstream artists are including Vinyl versions of their albums in their catalog, showing that there is increased demand for a less connected, more physical way of experiencing music.
Dominating trend: Indie Magazines are re-inventing magazine publishing
Revolutions start at the fringe, not at the center. While in terms of overall numbers, indie magazines tend to fly under the radar of overall media consumption figures, the emergence of this new kind of magazine, extremely popular with trendy millennials provides very interesting clues about different ways of redefining what publishing is all about.
Countertrend: Growing domination of mobile devices in information gathering
The ubiquity off mobile devices is shaping expectations of what media is all about. That being said, mobile devices also drive an increasing sense of digital fatigue.
Associated trends: Increasing popularity of neighborhood bookstores
Bookstores are witnessing a comeback, offering physical contact with the product, serendipitous discovery - and, most importantly, curation by a likeminded person.
Dominating trend: Explosion of VR content experiments; entry-level VR devices will be increasingly popular
The massive push to drive VR developments is likely to increase in 2016, and the number of impressive experimentations with VR content will grow significantly. That being said, we are still some time away before VR news and media consumption will enter the mainstream.
Countertrend: Adoption of high-quality VR systems will take time
Excepted Gaming, Virtual Reality still has not found its killer app, and while early demos with devices such as Google Cardboard get the point across, it will take much more to make VR a solid component of everyday media consumption. (This is not to say that it will not happen eventually, but it will take significantly longer than bullish proponents of the technology assume.)
Associated trends: Augmented reality is becoming viable
In the short, the arrival of augmented reality systems such as Microsoft’s Hololens or Magic Leap will offer an interesting addition to the VR media puzzle, that has the additional benefit of not cutting the user completely off his surroundings.
Dominating trend: Growing diversity of editorial offering
While breaking news interspersed with thinly disguised clickbait continues to be perceived as the primary battle-field of digital journalism, 2016 will see long-form journalism increasingly take center stage as readers are asking for more serious content. This also underlines the fact that on-line information consumption is undergoing a slow but constant evolution. Also contributing to the diversification of editorial content on offer will be increasingly pervasive video content and considerable amount of experimentation with 360° video and VR journalism.
Countertrend: Overall slowdown of tablet sales in favor of large-screen smartphones
While tablets are clearly the best device for consuming sophisticated on-line content, the slow-down of tablet sales in favor of larger smartphones could negatively impact evolution of sophisticated mobile content in favor of simpler presentations
Associated trends: Emergence of VR as main stream content technology
It is too early to tell if the emergence of VR content will rapidly find its natural place in the on-line content landscape, or if it will remain an interesting experimentation without a clearly defined role in editorial line-up. Either way, VR will definitely be a influence to reckon with in 2016.
Dominating trend: Strong development - and increasing challenges
As publishers turn increasingly to native advertising and sponsored content to generate revenue, we can expect pushback from readers who feel duped by content that’s not clearly designated as advertising. It would be a fallacy to assume that all content is born equal: the debate about what is “real” journalism and isn’t is very likely to heat up in 2016, as serious editorial content needs to show more clearly that it isn’t advertising in disguise. Expect increasing experimentation in this field, in form as well as in content.
Countertrend: Increasing sophistication and quality of content marketing
As content marketing is becoming an increasingly sophisticated and rich marketing tool, we can expect players in this field to increasingly challenge traditional editorial outlets at least in some fields. We should also expect a rise in brand-owned publications, particularly in vertical market segments
Associated trends: Growing demand for long-form content
The growing demand and development of high-quality long-form content will also contribute to making the content landscape of 2016 a complex and multi-layered one, that will require clear and unambiguous ways of signaling native advertising.
Dominating trend: Messaging apps will be increasingly used for creating and distributing breaking news
The trend started with Snapchat, and its Discover and Stories features, and is likely to expand to other messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, among many others. In fact, in terms of active users, the top four messaging apps have outpaced the top four social media platforms already Expect increasing experimentation in the field from publishers and technology providers alike.
Countertrend: Editorial brands will be working hard to diversify their editorial offerings
To counter the increasing clout of social media and messaging apps in news distribution, we should expect publishers to push for increasing diversification in their content and services catalog, in an uphill battle to retain brand recognition and attractivity of their editorial platforms
Associated trends: Notification apps play an increasingly important role in News distribution
The increasing popularity of messaging apps will also lead to a more widespread use of notification apps such as Facebook Notify, Breaking News and many others. In fact, the importance of messaging apps in users’ lives will lead to more widespread acceptance of push-notifications in the content pipeline.
Dominating trend: Human Curation is becoming essential in Digital Media
You cannot automate excellence - and when it comes to the crunch, excellence is what makes the difference between leading media properties and also-rans. 2015 saw human curation take center stage in digital media, and this trend is very likely to increase over the coming year, as most every digital media outlet will ramp up curation in their content selection methods in order to gain an advantage over the competition.
Countertrend: Rise of Distributed Content
Algorithmically selected distributed content such as Facebook Instant Articles is bound to play a significant role in news distribution in the coming year, and will seriously impact what information gets seen by whom. That being said, even social media giants such as Facebook are increasingly using human curation in fine-tuning their content selection and services
Associated trends: The rise of the neighborhood bookstore
2015 saw small neighborhood bookstores make a come-back, as book-lovers increasingly turn to physical bookstores for serendipitous discovery of interesting items. Clearly, one of the most appreciated aspects of these stores is the very personal selection by the store staff.
Andreas Pfeiffer, January 2016