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The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

“In the end, the platform fracturing will continue.”

A whole host of companies will keep vying to replace Facebook traffic for publishers. And they’ll make a lot of money in the process. We saw this start in 2018, with a range of companies — from niche ones like Pocket and Audm all the way up to Flipboard, Twitter, and Apple News — make big pushes to woo publishers with more traffic and promises of partnerships that reward high-quality content. They’re capitalizing on the vacuum left by Facebook, which has turned into a trickle of traffic where it used to be a fire hose, thanks to Zuckerberg’s algorithm changes and more people opting to stop using the platform (#fakenews). These companies, positioning themselves as publishers’ friends, will experiment with their business models and curation strategies to figure out the best way to make money from mags and newspapers. Pocket’s model of selling its custom newsletters to publishers — a dual marketing and traffic play — will prove to be the most successful for small- to medium-size brands. In the end, the platform fracturing will continue.

The publishers’ CMS wars will begin. Every publisher that hasn’t built its own custom CMS — and even some that have — will get on-board with offerings from Vox (Chorus) and Washington Post (Arc). These media companies will continue to expand their tech platforms as a way to bring in new revenue. At the same time, there will be a concerted effort to get most national publishers of note on the same CMS, in the name of solidarity in the face of Facebook and Google. Vox Media and the Washington Post will compete to design the best ones and publishers will reap the benefits — bonuses like sophisticated drafting tools, integrated paywall and subscription monitoring software, and built-in newsletter platforms. My money is on Arc to surpass Chorus in 2019, with all that Bezos investment.

A lot of magazines without a clear identity and with a lot of competitors are going to go under. Some of the highly valued, VC-backed publications (looking at you, BuzzFeed and Vice) are going to stumble in 2019 when the U.S. slides into another recession and the appetite for expensive native content goes down with it. Some of these publishers are already strapped — Mic! — due to changing revenue streams and less predictable traffic spigots. Magazines that were able to coast along in the golden days of Facebook traffic and easy-peasy delivery on ad impressions will come to rely on their high-quality content that adds value for readers. If these publishers are going to survive, their readers will need to be loyal and willing to pay for content.

Axie Navas is the digital editorial director at Outside magazine.

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