Can the publishing industry’s future grow with first-party data?

Jakub Otrzasek
By Jakub Otrzasek | 2 December 2020
Jakub Otrzasek

Jakub Otrzasek, head of data & analytics Asia Pacific, MightyHive, explores how publishers can come back on track.

As user expectations around privacy and approaches to privacy continue to evolve, the traditional dependence of marketers on third-party data will become obsolete. It’s therefore a critical moment to embrace the shift to data-driven publishing - and drive long term business sustainability.

The Google News Initiative (GNI) supported Deloitte’s Digital Transformation through Data to frame how the industry’s current sustainability issues could be mitigated through data-based solutions. MightyHive to date has worked with many publishers globally on the back of this research. A publisher’s investment in first-party data orientated solutions is not only a practice in control, transparency and democratisation of data -- it’s also the quickest way to improve digital maturity, achieve better performance, drive revenue and achieve business sustainability.


There is no easy answer about where to start the data journey. Google News Initiative together with Deloitte offer tools to assess maturity, which can be a helpful exercise. Based on the cohort experience of the GNI Data Lab- a six month end-to-end journey to embed data practices within news organisations and drive business and cultural transformation, the content planning is the most obvious use case to begin with, followed by recirculation of existing and relevant publisher content. Once a robust content planning strategy is implemented and deployed across the business, experimenting with inventory yield management and audience advertising becomes a natural progression as both are interconnected with pricing strategies.

When data is harnessed correctly and thoroughly, a publisher can comfortably mature its business to engage with a subscription model. The problem arises when many execute this project prematurely. Despite enjoying strong initial results (for example, higher conversion rates), often issues begin to arise (for example, audience retention) that could have been avoided if data-based solutions were adopted to aid in identifying and solving business challenges. There is a trap here, as many could say “we do this” or “we have this under control”, but the challenge with data is that it needs to be done right. This includes reliability, transparency, buy-in, and adoption. One-off reports, a dashboard which cannot be accessed by editorial team, dashboards which are not used at least daily, or solutions which haven’t been updated in the last three months are all common mistakes encountered with publishers who think they are already effectively using data.


Based on our work across Asia Pacific -- which primarily was executed in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic -- we uncovered three findings:

  • There is a wealth of opportunity available within the publishing industry for data-driven transformations. Many of our participating publishers ranked lower in maturity compared to publishers in NA & EMEA with room to advance their capabilities.
  • Each publisher in the cohort already had a subscription model in place or was exploring the viability of introducing this model. To ensure the success of these subscription models, strong data infrastructures and strategies are necessary as an audience-focused framework connected with content strategies enables a sustainable subscription service.
  • Most of the publishers in the region require a good setup to harness first party data -- both from a tech perspective and business perspective.

Our concept of data maturity is constructed around the degree of audience segmentation and detailed analysis of accurate data available to lead financially successful business strategies.

Many publishers have an audience strategy but continue to rely heavily on third-party cookies, which will continue to be disrupted by external forces, such as Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), browser privacy updates and new privacy regulations (e.g. GDPR or CCPA). As third-party cookies disappear from the digital ecosystem, publishers need robust first-party data strategies to maintain a competitive market position. There is a clear necessity for attention to be shifted towards a first-party data strategy. Coupled with this shift, is the requirement for publishers to adopt a strategy focused on growing its first-party cookie loyalty base by adapting content strategies to suit the need of a “brand lover” rather than a casual reader (meaning reducing reliance on common industry metrics like monthly active users). This control over data allows for a reorientation and alignment in business strategy and cross functionality of teams.

It creates a clear focus for editorial and content planning where sales teams can drive results through a comprehensive understanding of its audience. From here, product and tech teams can tailor how the content is accessed to ensure ease, efficiency and an overall positive onsite experience for its loyal audience. The icing on the cake is that executive teams are able to forecast, strategise and undertake business planning with focus on audience growth and retention strategies.

Whilst the implementation of agile data and technology solutions provide immediate positive results, long-term success is strongly dependent on far-reaching organisational changes.

The adoption of cross-functional teams aligned by mutual goals, education and appropriate processes (that are maintained) allows for true business growth to occur. Therefore, the use of a change management model is recommended to provide publishers with a framework to ensure the shift in roles, responsibilities and process is transparent and inclusive. Cross functional collaboration, implementation of agile solutions and overall organisational changes are easier as discussion points than actual implementation.

To support publishers, MightyHive in partnership with the GNI published a playbook for publishers which focuses on data adoption across mentioned use cases.