As Scale Becomes Less Of A Differentiator, Publishers Must Focus On Engagement

Scale-to-Attention-digital-pubsScale is becoming less of a differentiator among digital publishers – meaning they’ll soon have to focus on metrics like engagement.

According to comScore’s “Cross-Platform Future in Focus” report, released Wednesday, 20% more digital media properties, including publishers and ecommerce sites, have topped 20 million uniques in the past year. That’s a total of 206 properties.

“More properties than ever are meeting that scale threshold,” said Andrew Lipsman, comScore’s VP of marketing and insights. While the upper echelon of scale is typically 50 million to 100 million uniques, the growth of publishers hitting 20 million uniques will push them to demonstrate the power of a site’s audience.

“Is it through advanced demographics [like an audience of car intenders]?” Lipsman said. “Is it that your audiences are highly engaged? There are other ways to articulate value.”

The publishing industry is also one where the rich seem to be getting richer. The number of properties with 100 million uniques grew 50% last year. Comparatively, the number of properties with 20 million to 50 million uniques grew 19%.

Lipsman said growth drivers included a 78% increase, between December 2013 to December 2015, in consumer time spent on mobile, and a 30% increase in time spent on tablets. (Time spent on desktop was flat.)

Publishers also have figured out how to adapt to mobile and social reading environments. The Washington Post, whose audience grew 78% over the past year, writes shorter articles that work better in those environments, Lipsman said.

The Post’s hypergrowth is a bit of an anomaly, but it’s worth noting that its peers – like The Guardian, Tribune Publishing, Bloomberg, Hearst, Time Inc. and New York Times Digital – also grew, albeit in the 20% to 30% range.

But this “supercycle” of growth will taper off.

While a decline in growth sounds worrisome, Lipsman said publishers that focus on engagement and audience quality over scale should not be concerned. As growth slows, publishers still have an opportunity to increase revenue as dollars spent catches up to time spent.

“Digital has gone through a big growth period, and a lot of the economic growth from that value hasn’t been realized,” he said. “There is often a lag in monetization after the growth in consumer engagement.”



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