May 29, 2024

How Publishers Are Navigating New Tech and Innovation  

Technology is advancing at a record pace, and publishers are working double-time to keep up with new developments and ensure they're getting the most value from internal and external tools. At Affiliate Summit West 2024, representatives from Rolling Stone, Ziff Davis, Hearst, and Blavity gathered to discuss their perspectives on growing a publishing business in a turbulent and exciting era.

Finding the Right Tech Solutions

Identifying and implementing tools can make an enormous difference in a publisher's success, but what those tools look like can differ significantly from one organization to the next. For isntance, the team at Ziff Davis has built rather than bought many of their systems. Their developers and engineers are responsible for creating internal tools that are customized to their needs.

As one of the largest mass media publishers in the world, Hearst also has the resources to meet a lot of their tech needs in-house. However, they still turn to external tools to gather, analyze, and distribute data. Hearst identifies these tools as especially useful:

  • BigQuery for data analytics

  • Looker for business intelligence and data exploration

  • Optimizely for A/B testing and personalization

At Blavity, the number one technology needed is improving workflow efficiency. They look for tools that help things flow faster, getting data into the hands of the teams that need it as quickly as possible.

Evaluating New Tech Partners

The number of potential tech partners grows every day, leaving publishers with the task of identifying the best options. When deciding who to trust with their technology needs, there are some universal requirements and expectations at play.

Beneficial Relationships

The first and foremost concern when establishing a new partnership is what the business has to gain. Whether the in-house team discovers a problem they need to solve or the potential partner approaches to pitch a new tool, the underlying question is how it will contribute to more effective, efficient, and profitable operations.

All the panel participants are looking for innovations that can increase revenue and keep costs down. If a partner presents them with a tool that will save time and money and provide value across the board, it's definitely worth consideration.

The issue of collaboration also comes into play for some companies. Blavity has a small product and engineering team, so they prioritize long-term, close partnerships driven by strong communication.

Right Time, Right Place

In some cases, the decision to work with a particular partner comes down to the expense and timing. For example, Ziff Davis is a publicly traded company that has to meet quarterly targets and budgets. When they come across a potential partner, they have to consider how that will affect previously planned initiatives.

Hearst is a private company, which gives them more flexibility when it comes to incorporating new tech. If a prospective partner pitches a solution that addresses a problem, they can immediately jump on it without sending it through multiple channels. Blavity, on the other hand, has to seek approval from many stakeholders.

Exploring Investment Opportunities

Investing money in the media affiliate industry is always a gamble, with companies looking for options with the biggest returns and lowest risk. The panelists highlight a few different types of investments that they're giving top priority. One of the most crucial is diversifying social channels by adding more resources to social teams and building out their presence on various platforms.

They're also looking for ways create loyal rather than fly-by readers and take ownership over first-party data. One way to achieve that goal is using newsletters more effectively.

Finding Uses for AI

The pressing question for many in the publishing and affiliate marketing industries is whether or how much to rely on artificial intelligence (AI). While companies differ in their approach, the panelists generally agree AI can be a valuable tool—in certain contexts.

While AI is an excellent way to collect attribution insights and influence content, many publishers agree it's not ideal for creating it. Ziff Davis views user trust as their most valuable asset, and generating content with AI could put that trust at risk. For that reason, users won't find AI-generated articles on any of their sites.

Likewise, Hearst has a company policy against using AI for content generation, but that doesn't mean they can't explore its other applications. Specifically, they're examining how they can use this technology to optimize workflows.

Blavity is AI extensively for research purposes. With its ability to rapidly gather and parse information, the tools available to content creators are better than they've ever been.

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