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Entering a more balanced era

“Subscriptions are not salvation. But a diversified digital revenue mix for publishers, with quality advertising and reader monetization at its core, might be.”

Publishers need platforms. They benefit from, and pay for, advertising and technological solutions from Google and Amazon. They use Facebook and Twitter to reach new audiences and sample our work. But they came back from the dead only by inches, after the Zombie Platform Race of the post-2008 crisis years. So 2019 should be year 1 of a new journalistic heterodoxy that has been breeding on different fronts, to succeed the platform orthodoxy of the past years. And that is excellent news for all — Big Tech included.

During the platform orthodoxy period, publishers optimized themselves for distributing their content and increasing reach. They desperately sought to be loved by the platforms. And they measured success, and the impact of their day-to-day journalism, with quantitative metrics. It was probably rational because journalism and advertising go hand in hand and will always. But it became unreasonable, given the negative impact it had on their journalism and their business model. It hindered their position in the market, and in society. Many factors have triggered the ongoing realignment — a new journalism-centric digital orthodoxy — between information, revenue, and technology. In the U.S., there’s Trump and the #fakenews debate. In Europe, there’s the end of a decade-long crisis and the EU’s regulatory actions in the digital market.

If I had to pinpoint a single variable to explain the transition from a platform-centric paradigm to a journalism-centric one, it’d be Facebook’s relative decoupling from news. A new, more balanced era has arrived. And we should celebrate…and carry on. We’re optimizing ourselves to be a destination again, with newsletters, subscriptions, editorial marketing, and good (new) old journalism. We now seek the love of our most loyal readers first, while we work to remain popular in the social village. And we measure success with more complex models, better introducing quality, impact and attention in the mix.

The debate around metrics and analytics for our industry has been one of the most fascinating and crucial in this challenging journey. But it is the universalization of the subscriptions or membership models that enshrines the greatest potential of this new journalism-led digital orthodoxy. Subscriptions are not salvation. But a diversified digital revenue mix for publishers, with quality advertising and reader monetization at its core, might be.

Users are not readers are not citizens. We need to be good at capturing users to feed our growth, advertising revenues and ranking positions. But we also need to excel at keeping loyal news readers coming back and logging themselves into our sites. Most crucially, we need to nourish and cherish our position before the increasingly critical citizenship of the societies we serve.

At Vocento, all of our local and regional newspapers will be offering a subscription proposition to their communities of readers by the end of next year. In 2019, it’s expected that others in the Spanish national press will join the movement. It’s changing our daily news menu, the way our newsrooms work, and the role our editors and reporters play. It’s made us better at handling big data and catering to our readers’ and customers’ needs. And it’s bringing revenue home, with more and more citizens in cities around the country paying to be well-informed. Isn’t it great that it’s all about journalism… again?

Borja Bergareche is the chief innovation officer at Vocento.

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