Publishers Must Approach Technology As An Investment, Not An Expense

will-dohertyThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Will Doherty, vice president of business development at Index Exchange.

There is a reason that B2B and enterprise companies, such as IBM, Oracle, Salesforce and HP, are so successful.

Just as their customers must be willing to invest in their infrastructures – essentially, by buying their products – they too are willing to make investments in their infrastructure in order to thrive. As technology companies, it’s simply instinctive for them to continuously improve their technology.

Publishers, on the other hand, have their own instinctive imperatives that often do not prioritize infrastructure upgrades. But by virtue of the medium, digital publishers are inherently in the technology business. If they shifted their mindsets and treated their technology as a competitive advantage rather than a cost center, publishers would reap the benefits.

Where would salespeople be today without enterprise-level CRM software? What would the financial services industry look like without the Bloomberg terminal?

“There is no single answer to what constitutes the right technology stack and configuration: Each publisher has its own needs, strategies, capabilities and supply-and-demand dynamics,” said a recent study by Boston Group, which was commissioned by Google.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to success for publishers in a highly competitive marketplace. Investments, particularly those that address the individual needs of each publisher, are crucial. A publisher’s choice to invest in technology – or not – can drastically affect the performance of its business.

Wise Investments

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post in 2013, it suffered from pages bloated with lines of extraneous code that caused severe slowing in page load times. Bezos decided to invest in custom page template software to streamline its design code, subsequently cutting its page load time by 85%.

By focusing on page load times, the Post prioritized user experience and performance, which ensured its readers would return and had a direct impact on advertising revenue. The Washington Post’s digital properties had 59.2 million unique readers in September, an “all-time high” for the publication that even matched The New York Times in digital readership.

Another great example is Fusion, a digital-first media company with a digital-to-linear TV content development strategy that enables it to pre-qualify audience interest and deliver market insights to brands. After launching its new website earlier this year, has more than tripled its digital audience.

The network has also invested in NewsLab, its own digital media incubator focused on developing next-generation digital media content, primarily for virtual reality and interactive formats. A Beta Research Corp. study of cable subscribers found Fusion ranked first in perceived value by viewers 18 to 49 years old.

The Mobile Conundrum

Now, the one channel that has seemingly perplexed almost every publisher is mobile. Competent advertisers and publishers know that you cannot attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole by resizing a desktop banner ad to fit in a mobile device, and a few publishers have proactively chosen to target the mobile generation.

Quartz is one of those publishers. It took a digital-only, mobile-first approach to reaching its audience and focused on social sharing and high-value native ads. It made user experience a priority and ensured that its site was built upon responsive design, which, as a pure web and mobile publisher, was crucial to increasing reader retention and loyalty. Its technology investment paid off, quickly and handsomely. Two years after its debut, Quartz surpassed 10 million monthly readers in the US, reached eight figures in revenue and moved into a larger office in New York City to accommodate its growing staff.

Publishers constantly talk about the need to drive advertising revenue, which is the lifeblood of their business. But in order to sustain that business, they must think of technology as their foundation. By recognizing the pillars supporting their existence – which, in today’s world, is a mobile generation demanding snackable content and immediate satisfaction – and investing in the infrastructure to support that readership, publishers will not only attract more readers, but fuel their engines for future success.

Any venture worth undertaking requires investment and commitment to reap dividends. In our tech-driven industry, that investment and commitment needs to be to the technology itself. Technology is a profit center, not a cost.

Follow Index Exchange (@indexexchange) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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