By Nina Juss, co-founder at global digital subscription platform Evolok

“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of” – so says Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo, in an adage that rings almost universally true, no matter what scenario in life it’s applied to.

In an age of choice, many of us are weighed down by a miasma of “stuff”; whether that’s the physical heft of an overflowing garage, or the more figurative baggage of a tech stack that’s unwieldy and outdated.

Like shoppers on Amazon, today’s digital publishers are presented with a never-ending glut of products promising to enhance editorial content – from personalisation algorithms and unique paywall offerings to the editorial potential of AI tools such as ChatGPT.

While it’s true that an arsenal of smart tech – including AI – is vital for digital publishers to meet the challenge from an “oligopoly” of tech giants circling the market, it’s only half the fight. Amid a climate of global ad cutbacks and rising costs, the real challenge for editorial decision-makers lies in how to deploy their surging repertoire of tools.

First-party advantage

As we move towards a future of cookieless advertising, it’s increasingly clear that first-party data is publishers’ biggest asset. In a fast-changing landscape, it’s a means by which unique, powerful storytelling can be married with valuable revenue.

At the centre of this relationship lies audience engagement. From The Wall Street Journal to the Financial Times and even hard-to-monetise regional press titles, many online publishers are now successfully using digital subscriptions to drive acquisition based on personalised content.

If online publishers can understand the behaviours of their users on-site, they can serve them with the kind of relevant and original stories that incentivise strong membership – aka, a lucrative ad audience.

According to the latest research from the Reuters Institute, publishers are also increasingly focused on retaining existing subscribers this year (over adding new ones). To do this, they’re again looking within to their tech treasuries, with the development of new premium bundles such as podcasts, email newsletters and digital video.

 User experiences, then, are the vessel by which online publishers can stay afloat and thrive. The difficulty comes with the tech products behind these experiences; and the fact that there are often far too many, of varied heritage, for the overall structure to work effectively.

Out of sync

The confusion is hardly surprising when you consider the dizzying journey of transformation most publishers have undergone in recent years. More often than not, media companies have accrued digital tools in a piecemeal fashion, using multiple plugins across different verticals, from sign-ins to personalised touchpoints or monetisation strategies.

This approach ends up in a spider’s web of legacy and new tech, with various mechanisms that rarely fit neatly together – or that cause errors when they do. The upshot is that publishers often have access to a trove of valuable insights; but they lack the coordination or expertise to bring everything together fluidly.

It’s a catch-22 that invariably causes bungles and delays – along with the risk of budget being diverted onto hard-to-hire tech talent, as teams rush to plug various gaps. It’s no wonder that many publishers are running into headaches: the battle to sync their tech stacks is nothing short of epic.

The solution ties back to our friend Marie Kondo: namely, decluttering rules all. To be able to scale engagement and revenue, publishers must shop carefully from a shiny supermall of emerging tech. The quest is not to find the most products; or get distracted by the newest ones.

Instead, the test in this minefield of options is to whittle down one’s basket to a manageable weight. Survey those shelves of third-party tools. Which ones can you do without? Which ones are convoluted, old or difficult to integrate? Since most publishers start from a default of tech overload, it’s better to focus on what is absolutely needed and lose the rest.

The great declutter

The result of this radical trimdown is speed and clarity of use; both superpowers in a fragmented, somewhat cutthroat digital landscape. Nowadays, publishers face a Goliath task: amid growing staff and budget cuts, they must also adapt nimbly to new threats posed by competitors in Big Tech and retail media networks. Scattergun tech – used at random, with little cohesion – won’t make this mission to secure ad dollars any easier. In fact, it stands to waste precious time and brain power.

The use of one centralised tech stack, on the other hand, is a boon. With fewer and simplified tools to call on, changes or new launches – for example, integrating a new payment solution – become easier to deploy. Often, they can even be automated from a self-service platform. A one-stop stack also means reduced risk of the kind of user friction that can easily stall engagement.

Above all, streamlining tech ensures that it stays in balance: as a facilitator to, rather than a ransom of, world-class digital journalism. At its height, this simplicity creates a lever for dynamic and sustainable growth – leaving editorial teams free to focus on the stories they tell best.

About the author: Nina Juss is a founder and director whose career has been built in a number of sectors including telecoms and IT services. She has hands-on experience in operationally managing a number of organisations from the ground up to become successful enterprises. Nina started her career in marketing for a Telco conglomerate and then moved into building start-up companies in the IT Services market, working with major Publishers and Media sector organisations including NewsCorp and BskyB. Nina is responsible for all sales and operational functions at Evolok.

Lead image by cocoandwifi via pixabay.

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