The Half-Life of Published Works is Shrinking. Here’s What Publishers Need to Do – Paul Perry | Guest Post

Less than two minutes.

That’s how long the average user spends on a website consuming content that interests them.

The old days of publishing are long gone. Captive audiences no longer subscribe to a few news outlets, spending hours consuming one or more newspapers or magazines in their entirety over morning coffee.

These days, people graze across multiple digital sites to satiate their hunger for content. They share subscriptions with families, friends, even exes. At the same time, social media and shortened attention spans have changed how everyone engages with content. Publishers are now pushed to adapt in order to survive, and it’s clear that most everyone must create new strategies to maintain and grow their audiences.

While subscriptions and paywalls are the current tools of choice for publishers, there are limits to how many subscriptions consumers can pile on top of other fixed costs in their lives.

The tough reality for publishers?

They’re no longer in control of consumers’ spending habits when it comes to published content.

The big challenge for publishers is to get deeply user-centric in an honest way that responds to mountains of consumer data (mostly from clicks) that show what content people want and how they want it. Consumers want content that gives due respect to their desires, their privacy, and their time.

Responding to such a major disruption in the publishing industry is no small feat. Let’s take a look at how publishers have navigated these seismic changes, and the best strategies for flourishing not just in spite of, but because of, these changes.

What is disrupting the publishing industry?

What is disrupting the publishing industry?

Was Duran Duran thinking about modern consumers when they wrote “Hungry Like the Wolf?”

Okay, probably not. But they certainly nailed the simile that describes how users consume content these days.

To understand what’s happening to the publishing industry, just think of the average user.

Like 85% of American adults consume news on their mobile phones. They check Twitter, Instagram, and other social media websites occasionally. Sometimes they’ll linger on an article, but no longer than two minutes, on average.

These emergent habits, along with the widespread use of connected devices, have done serious damage to traditional publishing. Users are spending more of their time consuming content on social media and publishers have followed them in an effort to chase scale.

Backing out of Facebook and Google (to protest the diversion of revenue from content creators to these platforms) just isn’t an option for many publishers looking to get their content in front of audiences. At the same time, these platforms are taking a lion’s share of the growth in digital advertising revenues, a dynamic that hurts publishers.

As a result, online content just doesn’t last as long. A good rule of thumb for the industry is now that the rate of decay for old content is increasing virtually as fast as the rate of creation for new content.

In a way, this is good news for content creators and publishers. Consumers are hungrier than ever for content they absorb at home, in the workplace, and on the go.

At the same time, as people are gobbling up more content than ever before, traditional publishers are seeing specific revenue streams shrinking as the need to adopt new technology increases.

Amidst such disruption, there is good news for publishers. Well-written, long-form pieces of content have a significantly longer shelf life. According to the CEO of Pocket, a 2000-word blog can last up to 37 days and produce significant social media engagement. In short, longer pieces of higher quality still perform well on the internet.

Bright spots like this and creative “new media” strategies are allowing publishers to weather the storm and build enduring revenue streams by diversifying how they create and deliver content.

Here’s a bit more on how they’re doing it below.

How publishers can stay relevant in the digital era

How publishers can stay relevant in the digital era

Imagine tallying up a tab, just like at a bar, except for your digital content consumption.

That is the future of published works in the digital age.

Connect digital and print content

According to industry experts, the books of the future will likely look a lot more like magazine subscriptions that update on connected devices automatically. Users will purchase content on-the-go through their connected devices along with their morning espresso.

The bookstores of the future will probably look a lot like hybrid libraries and cafes, serving up digital and print content that is linked together in dynamic ways. Customers will easily be able to toggle between the same content within a paperback book, their e-reader, and even an in-store display with augmented reality functionality.

In other words, publishers will go omnichannel with their content to keep up with consumers.

Leverage customer data to build identity-based strategies

Publishers are awash in customer data.

The trick is understanding how to use that data to produce deep, actionable insights that improve outcomes for customers and publishers. When publishers find ways to combine various data sources (CRM data, email lists, in-app behavior data, etc.), they can personalize for customers more effectively which drives engagement and increases value.

The importance of connecting with consumers using identity-based strategies that link users’ preferences and backgrounds to content consumption preferences will only become more important for publishers. The goal is to extend conversations with specific target audiences in ways that enrich experiences for users while offering advertisers stronger customer data.

Offer new products and revenue streams

To keep consumers engaged, publishers will need to get creative with what they produce and how they earn.

To stay relevant, print publishers will increasingly connect paperbacks, hardcovers, and magazines to rich, digital content. One example is how Australian magazines have used augmented reality to deliver “connected advertising” to their partners. Consumer data that was not previously available to magazines and advertisers is now being secured and leveraged to drive engagement.

More publishers will be looking to such innovative solutions to help move customers across digital-print gaps that sometimes exist between their products.

Use proactive media strategies

As publishers look to stay competitive, they’ll be pushed to develop more proactive media strategies for getting content in front of busy consumers in saturated markets.

Publishers need to cut through the noise and engage their audiences using channels where they spend most of their time.

One example is email.

The average white collar consumer estimated spending 6 hours per day checking email, according to Adobe. Even as other media rise in importance, email continues to serve as an extremely promising venue for customer acquisition and retention.

Leveraged the right way, email is more than just a simple tool for communication. Email is a powerful marketing vehicle that allows publishers to connect with target audiences outside the constraints of other platforms (such as Google and Facebook).

Deliver seamless content consumption experiences for users

Odds are, consumers will continue demanding rich, connected content experiences that cross multiple platforms.

Publishers should look to reduce the friction that comes with paywalls and monthly passes in order to create seamless content consumption experiences for users.

Membership models that offer users exclusive access to curated events connected to content will abound. Publishers can anticipate an increased need to bridge gaps between print, digital, and even in-person engagement to keep consumers connected to their products and services.

Employ innovative public relations and multimedia approaches to stay relevant

Curation and creativity rule the roost when it comes to publishers reaching their audiences.

Multimedia approaches to marketing and deploying content will advance as publishers utilize YouTube (and videos generally) to produce trailers for books and engage with audiences in the comments sections to drive interaction with content.

Publishers should increasingly leverage highly-targeted public relations distribution lists (rather than overly-broad press releases) to reach their audiences amidst all the noise. The goal for publishers will be to link innovative products with proactive media strategies in order to stay top of mind for consumers.

Increasing your content’s half-life means increasing engagement

As consumer appetites for content continues to increase and distribution becomes even more diffuse, publishers will continue to be challenged by the shrinking half-life of their content. They will need to find new ways to develop and deploy content to keep consumers engaged.

Navigating all of these shifting currents isn’t easy for publishers, but it is possible.

For publishers to remain this nimble in such a dynamic industry, they need the right submission management platform. Streamlining publishing workflows to get your content to more audiences faster is one vital way to keep up with the shrinking half-life of content. Publishers can keep up by pulling all of their content together in one organized place with the right submission platform.

A modern tool like Submittable allows publishers to receive, revise, publish, and distribute the highest quality content in a rapidly changing market.


This article was first published in November 2019 on Submittable.



Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.

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