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Publishing – Then and now: revenue

This is the last of our trilogy of blogs exploring the differences between traditional print and online publishing. This week, we’re talking revenue.

The internet disrupts the status quo

Before the days of the internet it was straightforward for publishers to make money from print titles. Customers expected to pay for their favourite content, and were willing to do so. Adverts in print publications with good circulation and a clearly defined audience were premium inventory, with advertisers queuing around the corner to spend budgets. The combination of established audience and strong ad rates was a lucrative one.

Unfortunately, these profits have significantly declined since the advent of the internet, as consumers have been presented with access to an almost unlimited amount of information, none of which they have to pay for.

Revenue through sales

Paying for content was once the norm, particularly given consumers were buying a tangible, physical product like a newspaper or magazine. Online publications however often find it hard to charge money for access to content. There are a plethora of free online publications to compete with, and studies show it is often only possible to charge for content if you are already an established brand with a loyal following.

Publications in the UK and US with an established readership, such as The Times, The Sun and The Wall Street Journal, have put up ‘paywalls’ for which members have to pay to access the publication or in some cases, specific content. It’s a gamble between losing readers to free competitors and solidifying your readership, not a decision to be taken lightly.

Opportunity to increase efficiency

Paywalls are still being experimented with, and they’re a subject that will be covered in more depth in a future post. However, the majority of a publisher’s revenue has always come from advertising, not subscriptions, so what’s going on online?

Online advertising presents publishers with a vast range of formats; from standard banner adverts to far more sophisticated ads embedded within videos and images, and tailored to a publisher’s content. Technology also promised more intelligent advertising, delivering ads that are relevant to an audience subset, rather than the readership-wide, one-size-fits-all approach of print ads.

Is the opportunity being realised?

With the flexibility, personalisation and dynamic nature of digital ads you’d expect online publishers are sitting pretty right now, especially considering the global audience that has been opened up to them, where once they were restricted by physical distribution.

As we referenced above though, that’s clearly not the case. Many are unable to generate sufficient revenue from the most established online advertising formats such as display. Users have learned to tune out adverts that don’t benefit them, so they don’t click and the value of publisher inventory has dropped accordingly.

Seeking alternatives

Because of this, publishers are now exploring new ways to drive revenue from their digital channels. ‘Native advertising’ is the latest industry buzzword and has been met with mixed reactions, due to concerns about integrating ads within editorial content without effective guidelines on format and transparency.

Despite concerns around native, as an idea it is at least based around giving brands a platform to give users value, typically in the form of interesting, compelling content. Regardless of the label that’s attached to it, advertising that gives users value also gives them a reason to engage with it, gets better results for advertisers and increases the premiums publishers can change for inventory.

This is where we think online advertising is moving. Given the current state of affairs, it has to.

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Publishing – Then and now: audiences


In our second instalment of ‘Publishing: then and now’, I will compare print and online publishing by focusing on how the medium of a publication affects the way audiences consume its content.

More often than not traditional print publishers now offer additional online versions of their content, but what are the advantages and the disadvantages of this when it comes to the audience?

The advantages of print publishing

Despite our technology-obsessed age, hard copy still occupies a position of prestige. There is also a general perception that print is more synonymous with ‘deep reading’, meaning its audience are engaging proactively with the content; something which makes them more likely to return to that publication again.  This contrasts with online consumers who on average spend less than a minute on a website and read only 28% of words on a page.

A more browser based consumer experience has now emerged with users ‘content-snacking’ and moving quickly between sites, rather than immersing themselves in chunks of editorial.

Print publications however, often have a very devoted readership; people will buy every edition of Vogue or The New Scientist because they respect and are loyal to the brand. Because of this, print publications often have a more solidified following, as evidenced by the fact that magazine ads routinely cost more than online ads do. Despite this loyal following, print publications are very limited geographically and can only facilitate an audience in countries where they print or distribute their content.

So, what are the advantages of online publishing?

Online publications have advantages when it comes to accessing audiences. Although online content may not have the same solidified core of consumers as print, it does have the capability to access a much wider audience and tap into the online habits of those audiences. Online publications can be accessed from anywhere in the world, at the click of a button, tap of a finger or command of a voice, so the potential readership can be massive.

Online content also has the added advantage of being translatable, so while more and more internet users are beginning to speak English, those that don’t are still catered to by a lot of publications, and the potential reach that comes as a result of that is enormous.

The ability for publishers to bridge the language barrier with online content means the medium transgresses print to such a degree that it’s hard to make a valid argument against it.

The accessibility of online publishing can also make it easier to build a relationship with users. Techniques such as linking to recommended articles mean that once a user is viewing your content you can give them a more personalized experience by offering related content and strengthening their interest in your publication.

Furthermore, publications do not want to run the risk of being ‘ungoogleable’! Those without an online footprint run the risk of becoming obsolete in digital terms, because users expect to see their favorite brands and publications when they’re online. If they can’t, they may just find new favorites.

Is online the only way forward?

There are however disadvantages that come with the relatively new reach and accessibility of online. What disadvantages you may ask? Well we’ve touched on relationship building being positive but the flip side is that it can sometimes be hard to cement a relationship online because readers may have linked to your content from elsewhere, or stumbled across it accidentally. They might read a snippet, and leave your site, not thinking about where the content came from and not having made any engagement with the publication itself.

We are consuming content in bite-size chunks for instant gratification and this means online publications can often have a more fragmented audience.

So, print publications often have a loyal following of ‘deep-readers’ whereas online publications benefit from being able to access a wider audience and offer added value.

Ultimately it’s the delivery of quality, engaging content that must remain at the forefront of any publication; regardless of its format. Making the transition to online publication is really a matter of when and not if; yet the details that have always made print so compelling and successful cannot be left behind, shelved to become dusty book covers labelled ‘online predecessor’.

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Publishing – Then and now: format

As a way of addressing the issues facing many publishers, I am doing a series of posts looking at the changes between the print-only days of old and the online publishing times we live in now. This is a topic with much scope for discussion and in this series I will be looking at the challenges and advantages that each medium presents by breaking them down and considering three elements – format, audience, and revenue.

First up, is the format!

Advantages of online publishing

The major benefit of online publishing is flexibility. Publishers can easily upload content whenever it becomes available without having to wait for the next hard copy to be published. This is particularly advantageous in today’s fast paced consumer climate where it is essential to stay current and where content is often delivered to us in real time.

Online publishing also reduces the cost of print and distribution and makes last minute editorial changes possible. In fact many of the restrictions of print media, such as page limitations are no longer applicable within digital formats. Publishers benefit from reduced production costs and the consumer benefits from ease of access and added content value.


Another major benefit of this format is the wealth of media that can be utilised in online publishing. Color images are expensive to print, however online images are standard and cost effective. Online publishing makes it easier to utilise multiple mediums such as audio and video; changing the way readers consume content. Information is now more accessible as a result of merging formats and the popularity of multiple devices allows information to be more easily digested on the move.

The options available for content delivery help online publishers build a more personal relationship with their readers.  Dynamic media platforms make for a more interactive experience because they offer elements such as reader comment sections and content sharing across social media. It’s not just publishers who are generating content anymore, readers are encouraged into a dialog with the author and other readers join the conversation. This interaction creates a network of engaged viewers and changes the very nature of original content consumption.

So, are there any advantages in print publishing?

The print format does still have its advantages both in terms of aesthetic and tradition.

Buying the morning paper has always been and still is for many, part of the daily routine. Whether you attack the sports section first, read from the front, or go right for the juicy opinion piece somewhere in the middle; it’s a force of habit that’s comfortable, enjoyable, and tangible.

While audio and video offer fantastic new engagement and interaction possibilities, it remains to be seen whether ‘traditional’ consumers really want that level of sensory overload with their coffee and toast. Some users may quite simply be bewildered by sites with ever-changing landing pages making it harder for them to find what they want.

Furthermore, formatting online also presents its own issues. It’s crucial for publishers to ensure the user experience is streamlined for access on PC, laptop, tablet and mobile devices. Column width, font size, resolution and navigation all become very important to how information is conveyed to a reader. It matters little how great content is if the reader can’t view it properly.

While print media may still hold sway for traditional readers, the online format of publishing is clearly the preferred delivery method of current and future consumers. The flexibility to edit and upload content at little or no extra cost as well its ability to adapt vastly popular formats such as audio and video make it the critical next move for publishers who want to realistically and successfully compete in the market.

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What are the video distribution options for advertisers?

We’re all aware that video has moved from the ‘up and coming’ online advertising format to one of the most popular forms of digital activity. However that doesn’t mean that it’s becoming easier to choose the right online video distribution channel. Each campaign will require something a little bit different, and with so many online video formats it’s not easy to understand which will deliver the results you’re looking for.

We have looked at the spectrum of online video distribution options and come up with four key categories that encompass the most common video advertising formats. This post is a (relatively) jargon-free guide to understanding them.

In-Stream Video Ads (Pre-Roll, Mid-Roll, Post-Roll)

In-stream video advertising (widely known as ‘pre-roll’) is by far the most common video ad format. In-stream video advertising presents a video ad before, during, or after a piece of video content is consumed by a user. YouTube, for example, sometimes serve 30 second adverts before a video.

The benefit of in-stream ads is the significant reach they can offer brands. With so much video content on the internet, in-stream ads can reach an audience of millions. This reach doesn’t guarantee engagement though, as most in-stream ads now offer consumers the ability to skip the ad, something many are choosing to do.

In-Banner Video Ads

Another prevalent form of video advertising is in-banner video advertising. Video ads are placed in standard display ad units on websites. The video can then be presented to the user in a number of ways.

  • Videos can sit in a standard MPU (Mid-Page Unit) banner, and will play when clicked on, rolled over or automatically when the page loads.
  • Some banners will present a video in a pop-up player when the ad is engaged with. Pop-up video players can be presented in full-screen or smaller sizes.

banner displayed in pop-up player

These ads tend to offer the user more of an interactive experience, supporting the content with a variety of additional features that are designed to engage the user.

In-Content Video Ads – ‘Native’ advertising

Content based ’native’ advertising is an expanding advertising format that enables branded video content to be placed within contextually relevant editorial. Video viewers engage with the branded content as part of their interest in a topic and desire to learn more.

Brands often sponsor premium sites to enable their content to be included within a post. Content can also be included voluntarily by the author. One of the main benefits of in-content video ads is the implied credibility the website, author and supporting content given to the brand. A sponsored story on a trusted, premium content website will make the consumer react positively to the video.

Social Video Ads – Social Networks, Gaming

Social and gaming apps have become a priority platform for ad distribution, thanks mostly to the influx of mobile consumption. Video is a major part of this, as consumers engage with and share content on the move. Ads are used to drive social engagement with a brand, either incentivised or non-incentivised, but the platform can be used to drive e-commerce.

Whether it is distributed within Facebook or Farmville, video consumption on mobiles provides advertisers with significant reach and also the ability to target ads to specific audiences.

Ultimately, it’s going to be a mixture of video distribution methods from the above four categories that will combine to make a successful video campaign. The key is choosing the right content and setting smart objectives to maximise the potential of each channel.

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Going native – how should publishers play the native advertising game?

Native advertising is the phrase of the moment. ‘Native advertising’ is the cure to ‘banner blindness’ (there’s another one everyone is talking about, including us!) but what exactly is it and how do you get it right?

There’s no doubt about it, diminishing investment returns from display advertising means publishers need alternative revenue streams. Whether it’s banner boredom or banner blindness, people just don’t click anymore. Audiences know what they’re looking for, and it’s not the adverts. They want publishers’ great content, they don’t want intrusive or irrelevant sales messages. So if you delineate between content and adverts people go straight to the content and ignore the ads. Which is where native advertising comes in – integrating ads into your audience’s experience of digital publications makes them harder to ignore.

The native advertising dream is to create advertising content that fits seamlessly into a user’s experience. And if it’s well designed and helpful, it can work. Adverts that truly add value to your audience – genuinely relevant products introduced naturally in the context of interesting content – won’t irritate users.

Mashable’s Todd Wasserman suggests that maybe we should just call native advertising “good advertising”. Wasserman sums up the movement like this: “Consumers’ migration to mobile has prompted a do-over in which the dreaded banner ad is being kicked to the curb in favor of messaging that behaves much as other content does.” The important part in that statement is that last part: “much as other content does.” So “good advertising” is really “good content” – where publishers shine.

But native advertising that fakes it –  ads that dress themselves as part of the content but bear no relevancy to what the user is looking for – is dangerous stuff. The potential to annoy your audience with bad native advertising is huge.  Sneaking ads in like wolves in sheep’s clothing can destroy an audience’s trust in your site. Suddenly the experience isn’t all about the community, and shared interests, it’s about you selling to them. At least you know where you are with a banner ad – (thinks your audience )– at least it has the decency to look like an advert. But native advertising which smuggles sales messages into trusted content compromises the integrity of your site.

So native advertising that looks like the real thing but isn’t destroys trust and native advertising that tries and fails to look like the real thing is just as easily skipped as banner ads. Audiences are savvy and time poor. If it’s not what they’re looking for, they’ll skip it. You can’t fool people into reading ads just by copying the site conventions. An ad is an ad is an ad.

The only solution is to integrate advertising that is genuinely helpful to your audience. If it’s not good and it doesn’t add value, don’t give it room on your site.

The answer to how publishers should play the native advertising game? Carefully.

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What is useful advertising?

Did someone say ‘useful advertising’? Although not quite an oxymoron these two words certainly are not easy bedfellows. Like many, I think I would prefer the term ‘irritating advertising’.

In this technological age advertising comes at us from every angle and we are absorbing it subconsciously until our minds are cluttered with jingles and straplines and logos for companies we know nothing about. It is instinctual now to filter traditional advertising out of our consciousness, to never click on those banner ads and to fast forward through TV ads whenever possible.

Adverts as entertainment

Advertising can however, still be enjoyable. Decades of iconic Guinness adverts, the BT family everyone loved to follow, and Coca-Cola’s annual Christmas ad have been taken a step further with the proliferation of online viral videos.  3 Mobile’s cliff-dancing Shetland pony and Evian’s ‘baby and me’ campaign popularised by their interactive app are perfect examples of the modernisation of entertaining advertising.

These online adverts are linked and shared on Facebook, re-tweeted on Twitter and discovered and passed on via laptops, iPads and smart phones amongst friends all over the world. Adverts focused on entertaining and amusing us on our commute to work, therefore, still have value for companies. But can adverts actually be useful?

Utility through innovation and cultural experience

Educational adverts clearly can be useful. Safety adverts such as the government’s ‘kill your speed’ campaign with the haunting images of the small girl slumped against a tree, or the pizza splattered on the windscreen, are effective at pricking our consciousness and encouraging a change in behavior. But even adverts made to fleetingly entertain us while boosting company profits can serve a purpose. With the population reaching advertising saturation-point companies need to push the boundaries and really focus on what they can give the customer that adds value.

Innovations such as Red Bull’s ‘Media House’ which bought Felix Baumgartner’s space jump, and Nike+ which brings customers apps and devices by which to track performance and input their data, show clearly how companies can deliver value to their customers. This more innovative approach can enrich our cultural experience of brands and products and like Nike’s apps, make routine activities more enjoyable.

Give audiences value

This concept of added value enhances our associations with brands beyond that of the conventional consumer-supplier relationship. Through doing this brands create a shift in the way they position themselves in the daily lives of their customers, enriching the experiences they have with the products being consumed.

So ‘useful advertising’ does exist, and it’s as simple as creating something that adds value for the consumer. If an ad puts a smile on someone’s face, that’s great. If it enables someone to do something easier or better than they could before, like an intuitive app, or just a more direct route to whatever the user was going to look at next, even better. How useful advertising is, determines its success by cutting through the noise of everything else that’s out there. And in the end, value for the user ultimately means value for the advertiser.

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How trust in publisher’s videos creates demand that leads to a sale

Video is coming up fast on the inside lane and overtaking written content as the first place we turn for answers to our questions. Each day, over 100 million Americans watch online video, a 43% increase since 2010. By next year, video content could account for over 50% of online traffic.

Whether you type ‘how do I?’ into Google or Youtube depends on your age  – the younger you are, the more likely it is to be Youtube that you turn to first. But whatever the demographic of your audience, video feeds the demand for quick, clear, easily digestible nuggets of information that can be consumed on the go.

Video is easy to understand and makes a quicker emotional connection than written content. Because it’s easy to share, it spreads faster.  Not only is watching video less demanding than reading copy – it’s also easier to trust.

Show don’t tell

Seeing is believing, so a video demo that shows how straightforward it is to use a product is more credible than a written review that tells you it’s a breeze. People looking for answers to their questions seek out online video product reviews, trials, and how-to-guides to help them make decisions. And videos from trusted sources fuel demand for the products they feature.

What does this mean for great publishers with a high proportion of video content on their sites? In a nutshell, it means potential revenue.

Trust and revenue for publishers

Whether your videos offer inspiration, entertainment, or information, it means you have a large audience who trust you, and who will consider the products you feature. Your videos will be in the palm of your audience’s hand, and if the products are an integral part of content they have sought (rather than an advert they haven’t asked for) they’ll engage with it. If, at that point of piqued interest, they’re in the market to buy, it would be right and good if you could take a cut of the sale.

A new generation of online tools are bridging the gap between publisher’s video and consumer sale. The current state of play works against publishers. Your video creates a demand that takes the viewer away from your site – they go back to Google to search out where to buy it, or to a price comparison site to find out the best deal. New tools link your audience directly with the merchant, cutting out the search step, and rewarding you for your part in generating the sale.

Embedding a discreet natural next step in your trusted content such as ‘click here to buy’ is helpful for your audience. To see how we allow you to do this, check out Coull in-video overlay in action here.

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An introduction to Programmatic Buying and Real-Time Bidding

Just like native advertising, the two terms ‘programmatic buying’ and ‘real-time bidding’ are getting a lot of column inches.

It’s often the case that these buzzwords sound impressive, but don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny. These fluffy terms are bandied about by businesses desperate to be part of the zeitgeist. So, let’s take a look at what they both mean for advertisers, and find out whether they are a radical game-changer or just a flash in the pan.

What are they?

Programmatic buying

“Programmatic buying involves computerized, algorithm-driven trading that allows for quick buying of ad impressions according to pre-set parameters.” (As defined by Business Insider)

It enables an advertiser to match ads to audiences on an individual, impression by impression basis. Traditional display ads work like outdoor posters, you pay your money and you get residency in that spot for a certain amount of time. Whether your target audience sees the ad really depends on the quality of publisher placement you’ve agreed, it’s a rough science.

Programmatic buying means that when a user loads a webpage, this automated system checks who they are, then serves an ad from an advertiser who has specified that audience. Inventory for programmatic buying can be anything from display ads to in-content video or, more commonly at the moment, pre-roll video placements.

Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

“Real-time bidding or RTB is a style of programmatic buying in which digital advertising opportunities are auctioned off in real-time.” (Business Insider)

RTB is a variation of programmatic buying, letting advertisers bid for the right to serve an ad to a particular person on the impression by impression basis programmatic buying enables.


Why should I care?

Together, programmatic buying and RTB are an effective way to get the right ad in front of the right person at the right time.

Another benefit is transparency. With ad space brokered automatically via a third-party, rather than direct with publishers, delivery of an advertiser’s content is completely auditable.

However, where these highly-targeted advertising techniques could really shake things up is on mobile devices. It’s well documented that people are spending an ever-increasing share of their internet time on their smartphones and tablets, and they’re doing it on the move.

Google takes home more than half of mobile ad revenue globally at the moment, and the vast majority of that is from search (an RTB format). Search puts advertisers in front of people actively looking for their products or services, it makes sense for everyone involved.

What RTB and programmatic can do is take that logic to the rest of the marketplace. As we explored the other week, mobile users are unforgiving of advertising that intrudes on their experience, so advertisers and publishers need a way of giving them more of what they already want, of giving them value. RTB and programmatic buying are a way to make sure that advertising becomes relevant, that it becomes personal, and therefore becomes more effective.

Get it right and it is a radical game-changer.

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