The Revenue Streams of 2011

Following a long-standing custom on this page, I devote the EContent 100 issue edition of Follow the Money to the year ahead and to where the investment—and perhaps even the revenue—will be flowing. As I write this late in the fall of 2010, most business information publishers are still reeling from the double-digit declines many of them experienced in their overall businesses in the past year, even if the digital side increased 10%–20%, as many publishers typically tell me. As confidence builds in the economy generally (we hope) and a relentless move toward a digital media economy charges forward, here’s where publishers should be looking for new opportunity in the coming year.

Vertical tools: Like behavioral targeting, local ad sales, and mobile media, vertical search is the market that has been “on the verge” for years. However, in recent months, the rise of new, highly targeted workflow solutions such as Elsevier’s SciVerse and Geofacets mark a trend away from vertical search per se and more toward turning content into services and tools that target specific verticals. Throughout the Great Recession, databases held their value in the content market more than news and general information. Publishers will be creating tools that bring that data into professionals’ workflows and will offer tools that help scientists, librarians, and researchers to build their own apps out of well-indexed, mission-critical content.

Video is the new text: We are way past YouTube now. Users of all kinds now have an expectation of video when they visit a range of sites, from news and entertainment to trade and professional destinations. Information delivered via video simply has more impact, both for viewers and for advertisers. Trade and professional publishers have an opportunity to create environments and distribution channels for the video assets that advertisers and marketing partners need to show. The big news for publishers is that video is no longer in a silo of its own. It is now becoming important to all the other emerging platforms (virtual trade shows, webinars, mobile).

Vendor as publisher/publisher as content advisor: The money is flowing away from traditional advertising … permanently. The only sensible thing for publishers to do is shift their business models to create marketing service units that help vendors create their own site content and teach them how to distribute it effectively online. Your vendor partners like to think they are all publishers now, but traditional content providers need to impress on the industry that crafting compelling content and mastering the art of distribution is not for amateurs. Social media is one area where publishers can help marketers get a presence and populate the space with real content, not just ads. Companies such as IDG are ahead of the curve in this regard.

The art of the game: Like video, digital gaming is evolving into something more than a cute multimedia treat. It is a mode of communication. Virtual trade show companies started incorporating sponsored trivia contents in the online expos experience last year. Content sites have come to recognize (a bit begrudgingly) that gaming areas are stickier than their editorial areas. And now, media companies such as Rodale and Hearst are creating branded mobile and social gaming apps. Users will pay to play, and the smartest publishers will learn how to get into this massive new economy of virtual goods and currency.

Supply gives way to demand: The great shift in advertiser sensibility from context to audience is upon us. Marketers still want to be aligned with quality, trusted content. Unfortunately, fragmentation of attention, the erosion of brand loyalty, and the staggering amount of inexpensive inventory online are pushing the overall ad economy toward demand-side platforms. An alphabet soup of ad technology providers has emerged to add complexity and cost to ad buying: DSPs (demand-side platforms), RTB (real-time bidding), SSPs (supply-side platforms), ad exchanges, ad verifiers, data providers, trading desks, etc. Publishers will need to get their audiences’ data into this ecosystem, but expect persistent tension over who owns the customers, the data, and the advertiser in these dizzyingly complex systems.

The post-desktop internet: Stop me if you heard this from me before (actually, relentlessly since 1997). The desktop is the least comfortable means of consuming most forms of enjoyable media yet invented. The migration of digital content out of the browser and into devices, cars, phones, kitchens, tablets, TVs—anywhere but here—is going to drive media consumption, monetization, and pleasure far beyond what we have seen thus far on the web. Think your web strategy is finally taking shape? Get ready to move.