Predictions 2021: Consolidation, ecommerce and ‘unexpected’ partnerships for publishing

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 7 December 2020

Publishers, after a uniquely difficult year, will have to double down on diversifying revenue streams in 2021, with ecommerce, partnerships and the return of live events predicted to be the biggest opportunities.

The pandemic pushed advertising revenue to new lows this year, with newspaper ad spend falling 46.1% and magazines 57.4% in May, according to SMI figures.

This made what News Corp Australia’s Nicholas Gray describes as the “toughest year ever” for advertising. The decline contributed to the demise, or significant winding back, of outlets in Australia, such as 10 Daily, BuzzFeed and Vice.

To adapt, experts across the board are pointing to new revenue streams coming from ecommerce, particularly at Are Media.

“Doubling down on creating engaging content that influences consumers will assure improved commercial outcomes for clients and demonstrate how powerful the publishing industry is at not just building brands, but also at selling products and services,” says Are Media CEO Brendon Hill.

“The ongoing transition to offering ecommerce capabilities and the traceability of audiences will super charge this move.”

Additionally, experts are pointing to more consolidation, meaning less competition for advertising dollars, and an increase in ‘unexpected’ partnerships across the industry.

Read all the predictions on 2021 below: 

News Corp Australia managing director, The Australian, NSW & Prestige Titles Nicholas Gray
2020 was the biggest year ever for news and the toughest year ever for advertising. It accelerated many trends already in place and we will see this continue in 2021. The tech titans will pay for news content, as will a growing number of individuals. Advertising will continue its shifts to digital, content and trusted environments. Armed with many communication tools we have mastered in 2020, we will continue to work flexibly in 2021, but not as remotely as we did this year.

Nine digital editorial director Kerri Elstub
After a year like no other, 2021 will be a time when stability and community are key. The pandemic has left many people feeling disconnected and despairing and journalists aren’t immune from that. Through information and investigation, we can help people easily understand what’s happening in their city, their neighbourhood. Breaking news will remain at the forefront of what we do and what our audience wants, but the role of entertainment is increasingly important, as we seek a return to normal, a return to laughter and light-heartedness. Plus, have you checked out the royal calendar for next year? Sheesh! 2021 is going to be huge!

Are Media CEO Brendon Hill
Diversification will be a key issue for the publishing industry in 2021. To enable publishing brands to diversify their revenue models they need to be front of mind with consumers, which means more investment in building brands through marketing and investing in the product. Doubling down on creating engaging content that influences consumers will assure improved commercial outcomes for clients and demonstrate how powerful the publishing industry is at not just building brands, but also at selling products and services. The ongoing transition to offering ecommerce capabilities and the traceability of audiences will super charge this move.

Pedestrian Group publisher Vanessa Lawrence
In 2021 we’re going to see market demand supercharge ecommerce, solidifying its place as a meaningful revenue diversification strategy (when, even two years ago, it was still largely considered ‘experimental’) for digital publishers. Social platforms are already racing to adapt to the way people are shopping post-COVID; this year alone, Facebook and Instagram rolled out virtual shopfronts, Snapchat launched its first campaign using shoppable AR tech and TikTok just inked a global partnership with ecommerce platform Shopify. For publishers who are already a trusted voice in product reviews and recommendations, there’s a significant opportunity to meet readers’ changing shopping habits with genuinely engaging, well-researched affiliate content that a) answers their needs and, b) drives significant revenue, as money that’s normally reserved for things like travel is spent on home renos, gadgets, clothes and accessories etc.
We’ve been gearing up for the ecommerce boom at Pedestrian Group, identifying it as a significant growth area and investing accordingly over the past six months. It’s not as simple as monetising a product link, sitting back and watching the dollars roll in; a thriving affiliate business model leans heavily on smart content decisions, fuelled by data and insight on evolving trends, the right team of writers in place to execute and strong commercial partnerships. We’re very pleased to see our efforts start to pay dividends, and 2021 will be all about finetuning our approach to cement our place as market leaders in bringing quality affiliate content to our audiences.

Gritty Pretty founder and editor-in-chief Eleanor Pendleton
What was once considered 'New Media' will become 'Main Media' as the industry shifts in favour of smaller, independent publishers with smaller but far more engaged audiences. A direct response to the closures of women's lifestyle print titles in 2020, digital-only businesses - like - will continue to thrive and captivate their local audiences with original content and local storytelling.
Following the aftermath of COVID-19, communities and audiences will expect convenience by way of digital interactions and shopping experiences but equally they'll also crave interaction; meaningful, tangible and human-to-human connection that has a positive influence. In lieu of 2020, Zoom meetings and FaceTime, publishers will need to look beyond typical digital interactions and bring their communities together to share a dialogue in other ways. Gritty Pretty began to address this through community virtual events, small in-person events with safe social distancing, our podcast conversations hosted on Gritty Pretty Radio and our team of beauty journalists having unfiltered conversations with our Gritty Pretty Gang closed Facebook group. What is key is providing a platform for these conversations to be had online within a trusted environment.

Verizon Media AUNZ managing director Paul Sigaloff
If 2020 was the year of activism, 2021 is going to be the year that catalyses into meaningful change. Audiences will become ever more conscious of their media consumption and the agenda behind it. Similarly, brands will take a hard look at the kind of content their media dollars are supporting, and ask whether that aligns to their view of the world as people demand more meaningful contribution to society in return. With consumers becoming more aware of their data privacy and cookies finally set to crumble, this will culminate into unified identity solutions like ConnectID. Products that responsibly handle first-party data and put consumers at the forefront will be paramount going forward for publishers, marketers, and consumers alike. And for advertisers, 2021 will be an inflection point. In order to engage with captivated audiences and deliver marketing solutions with greater effectiveness, we’ll see an increase of brands turning to trusted partners with full-service omnichannel platforms that are operating in brand-safe, premium environments. 

News Corp Australia managing director, commercial product and platforms Emma Fawcett
For publishers and advertisers alike data will continue to grow in importance, and will fuel further development in personalised and one-to-one communications. Publishers with large, known and addressable audiences are well placed to capitalise on this in 2021. In a highly personalised and fragmented world having the right content to serve to your consumers, in the right format (i.e video), the right tone and at the right time, is going to be ever more critical to cut through and we'll see publishers continue to leverage their strengths in this space. The only other thing I can predict about 2021 is that it will be unpredictable. Some sectors and categories (i.e home spending and most retail) will likely do well, while others will struggle; government stimulus rolling off may further hurt many small to medium businesses, who are already doing it tough. I think we could see some new and unexpected partnerships right across the media industry as interesting times inspire creative and new ways of working together.

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Emma Fawcett

The Brag Media CEO Luke Girgis
2021 will be the year of consolidation and quality. Ultimately, publishers are either going to retreat from the market or fold (as we’ve already seen 2020 with Buzzfeed, Vice, 10 Daily etc) and many publishers that remain will consolidate via acquisition, merger or collaboration. This will be a huge win for everyone. For brands, it means less noise and master heads to sift through, so their relationships with publishers will be deeper and of a higher quality. For publishers, it means less competition when fighting for ad dollars, so investment and resources will be shifted away from winning new business and into producing quality content. For audiences, the content will be better than ever as it will be less about fighting for clicks and more about deeper content both editorially and branded.

News Corp Australia chief technology officer, data and digital Julian Delany
To make the most of an increasingly engaged and curious digital audience, the media will continue to be stretched to find new solutions in 2021. With 'time' being redefined over the last 12 months there will be, and already has been, new habits that come from an extraordinary 2020. Without doubt publishers who zero in on how to make the most of time will benefit most from the recovery that comes in 2021. Ironically as brands receive more time from consumers on their digital products, publishers will need 'speed' in delivery of innovation to make the most of rapidly evolving trends.

Man of Many editor Nick Hall
While a challenging 2020 has pushed fast forward on a lot of domestic publishers’ difficult decisions, 2021 presents a new and exciting opportunity for publishers, particularly in the digital space. Publishers will look to diversify into new revenue streams such as content production, product collaborations, ecommerce, digital courses and virtual events or activations. 2021 will also present an opportunity to look at potential new distribution channels through smart speakers, voice assistants or streaming service platforms with a focus on consumer insights to help produce more authentic and engaging content. There is also an increasing need for publishers to own their audience and database through newsletters or paid subscriptions with the impending deprecation of cookies.
At Man of Many, we’re placing far greater emphasis on bringing our audience together in a tangible way, across all our digital platforms as well as through offline channels. It is my firm belief that there has never been a more important time to employ a multi-faceted approach to your content and editorial direction.

Are Media executive general manager, digital and publishing Sarah-Belle Murphy
Ecommerce will be a core component of our brand, publishing and digital platforms like never before. The next 12 months will reshape the way we build digital products, create content, shoot video and record audio, so that it creates a seamless retail journey for both our consumers and customers. The leap from page to purchase will also rapidly evolve – the normalisation of using QR codes during Covid will allow incredible data capture and insights that illustrate the power our titles have in influencing the path to purchase making mags truly shoppable.

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Sarah-Belle Murphy

Frankie general manager Gaye Murray
A razor-sharp focus on audiences’ shifting priorities, interests and behaviours is more important than ever. Insights will be used to nurture and grow communities, to inform product and content creation, influence channel delivery and be shared with commercial partners. Brands that have strengthened trust and deepened engagement with their communities during the year are well placed to grow in 2021. At Frankie, shared values play a crucial role in building trust with our audience, as does an unwavering commitment to consistently delivering quality products and content they need and want.
Based on growth this year, we anticipate increased demand for branded content in all its forms – print, digital, socials, podcasts, videos, research projects, webinars and (when permitted) live events. Our partnerships create authentic connections, engage new audiences across different platforms and deliver brand uplift (with some great storytelling along the way).

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