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March 27, 2024

What news publishers should do now to avoid extinction in 2025

Matthew Scott Goldstein's follow-up to the piece that inspired a New Yorker article.

By Matthew Scott Goldstein

Media consultant Matthew Scott Goldstein prompted a much-discussed New Yorker feature when he wrote in January about AI-driven search being a potential extinction-level event for publishers. Here he warns that other challenges are piling up for online publishers in 2024 and sets out a blueprint for tackling them.

I think I have a plan for the digital publishing landscape over the next two years.

Most of the information I encountered during Q1 2024 conveyed a negative and discouraging tone, indicating a need for urgency and action in the publishing world. 

While publishers continued focusing on diversifying revenue streams beyond ad sales – such as generative AI, e-commerce, subscriptions, community, newsletters, acquisitions, editorial shifts, podcasts, content licensing to LLMs, and lawsuits – it may not be enough. 

Google’s Gemini technology, which is capable of directly answering questions, poses a challenge for publishers, as it is likely to reduce clickthrough from search results and further diminish website traffic. The recent Gemini incident and potential leadership (CEO) changes at Google may accelerate this shift, keeping a larger portion of traffic within the Google ecosystem. Plus, OpenAI’s Sora, which can create realistic and imaginative scenes from text instructions, is remarkable. 

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Now to the even scarier part: the digital publisher industry is expected to encounter a significant decline in the first quarter of 2025. This conclusion was reached after engaging in extensive conversations with industry experts over the last few months. This downturn is anticipated to continue for a minimum of three to six months, possibly extending throughout the entirety of 2025.

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Several factors contribute to this downturn, including the launch of Google’s Privacy Sandbox, which is anticipated to significantly disrupt the online advertising landscape. This decrease could become a new normal, lower level of programmatic monetisation as buy side efficacy is reduced without third-party cookies. 

Additionally, the post-US presidential election bump commonly observed in advertising spending is expected to intensify the impact on publishers. Programmatic CPMs in the Chrome ecosystem, which serve as the cornerstone of most publishers’ revenue, are projected to experience a substantial decline of at least 30%, with some estimates reaching as high as 50%.

Some ID solutions that are aiding yields across cookie-less environments today actually rely on the cookies from Chrome – so, these will be hit too with third-party cookie deprecation. Low CPMs derived from the Apple/Safari ecosystem may become the norm in the Google/Chrome world, posing a further obstacle to monetisation efforts.

The quick, pro-active measures publishers must take

During this time advertisers will probably move budgets to CTV (advertising on smart TVs), search, retail media and social. The anticipated decline is not only significant but also presents unique challenges for digital publishers.

To navigate this challenging period, publishers must take quick proactive measures. I know this is basically an impossible task, providing advice like this, but I must try.

Small publishers

In Q1 2025, anticipate a steep decline in programmatic CPMs and take steps now to remain lean. Prioritise the diversification of revenue streams beyond ad sales. Implement cost-cutting measures and explore outsourcing options to optimise efficiency. Focus on editorial, continue to find white space with content.

Medium-sized publishers

To ensure survival in a highly competitive industry, immediate merging with another company is necessary/possible. Focusing on cost-cutting measures, including outsourcing tasks like programmatic, analytics, and ad sales. This is essential. Prioritising editorial content as a key differentiator is crucial.

Transitioning entirely to programmatic advertising may be recommended, unless the publisher serves a high value vertical that lends itself to direct sales. When diversifying away from ad sales, it’s vital to select a single initiative and concentrate all efforts on it.

Large publishers

In the face of current industry challenges, publishers should critically evaluate their leadership. If the CEO lacks a strong background in technology, programmatic advertising, editorial, or M&A, it may be time to consider stepping aside and allowing new leadership to take the helm. The CEO should focus on the current product and bring in experienced senior leaders to spearhead key initiatives. These initiatives – such as e-commerce, community, subscriptions, generative AI, video, podcasting, and editorial expansion/editorial leadership – should be directly reported to the CEO to emphasise their importance and facilitate the incorporation of innovative ideas.

Additionally, publishers must continue to prioritise front door traffic and newsletters, as over-reliance on Google will be detrimental. Additionally, we must convince advertisers to continue to buy the open web in 2025, just do it slightly differently when cookies are gone. Sit with agencies and lay out the plan of how to buy in 2025 without cookies. Skate where the puck is going.

Key questions for publishers and their partners

On Friday 12 April, I plan to host a Zoom meeting with publishers and partners to discuss several pressing issues.

Promoting publisher initiatives

How can we effectively promote and support publisher initiatives, ensuring their visibility and success? Can we share data across publishers? Can we share more resources? Can we share direct sales teams? Will contextual targeting thrive in 2025? How does attribution work? How long does it take to get marketers to retag their sites? If Privacy Sandbox works, do publishers stop supporting Safari? Will the UK publisher community act faster than the US? 

Facilitating mergers and collaborations

What strategies can we employ to facilitate mergers and collaborations between publishers, enabling them to strengthen their market position and enhance their offerings?

Roadshow for expediting purchases in the Privacy Sandbox

Should we embark on a roadshow to persuade agencies to expedite purchases in the Privacy Sandbox? What are the potential benefits and challenges of this approach?

Making the case to Google

Should we present Google with a compelling argument outlining the numerous unintended consequences the Privacy Sandbox launch may have for the open web? How receptive is Google to our concerns, and what strategies can we employ to engage with them effectively?

Role of The Trade Desk

Can demand side platform The Trade Desk (TTD) provide additional support and assistance to publishers in navigating the changing landscape? What specific measures can be taken to enhance TTD’s involvement and impact? Are today’s DSP/SSP platforms built with massive capabilities to manage the crowded cookie space. Once the table stakes have changed, will platforms be simpler, nimbler and less expensive?

As Privacy Sandbox gradually rolls out in 2025, will agencies start to shift their focus toward direct buying? What are the implications of this trend, and how can publishers prepare for it?

Run tests

Set up many tests around all other sources and partners and see how we can move the CPM needle for publishers. 

Publisher ecosystem in 2025

As the publishing industry approaches 2025, a pertinent inquiry arises: What will the future hold for publishers? Which publishing entities possess the potential to not only endure but also prosper in the coming years? What key factors will play a pivotal role in determining their success?

Agency of the future

Will it be all driven by general artificial intelligence, achieving remarkable efficiency, leading to heavy reliance on Google and Amazon, based on the marketer’s category? Will marketers become overly dependent on Google and Amazon for their marketing needs, as general artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent and efficient? The extent of this dependence may vary based on the specific category of marketer.

While I recognize the valuable contributions made by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Digital Content Next (DCN) to the digital advertising industry, I believe that their current structures, leadership, and membership are inadequate to address the specific challenges faced by the industry. Nonetheless the IAB and OPA/DCN have been instrumental in shaping the development of digital advertising standards and best practices.

Building a coalition

The looming extinction event bears a remarkable similarity to the bank failures witnessed over the past decade. In the case of bank failures, warning signs were ignored or inadequately addressed, leading to a precipitous collapse of the financial system. Unlike the financial crisis, we now have the advantage of foreknowledge and the opportunity to take proactive measures. However, swift, and decisive action is imperative.

So far, I have six prominent members of this working group. These are some of the smartest minds in digital publishing, but the senior leadership is still narrow in terms of gender and racial diversity. 

  • Rich Caccappolo, CEO Daily Mail
  • Paul Bannister, CSO Raptive
  • Gabriel DeWitt, Head of Consumer Monetization Yahoo!
  • Brad Elders, COO NY Post 
  • Another large publisher 
  • Andrew Casale, CEO Index Exchange

To ensure the survival of the publishing industry in 2025, we are actively seeking a diverse group of additional C-level executives from digital-only publishers to join our exclusive dialogue. We aim to foster a collaborative environment where participants can contribute their expertise in technical, editorial, and programmatic areas. Additionally, we remain open to the potential involvement of benevolent billionaires who can provide valuable support.

Free and open news journalism, with a plurality of views, is of pivotal importance in a well-functioning democracy. By joining this endeavour, you will have the opportunity to witness the resurgence of the publishing industry and contribute to its continued success.

I would love to have senior, diverse, representatives from the following organisations join us: Reddit, Fandom, Weather, Axel Springer, Penske Media, Ziff Davis/IDG, and the Washington Post. These companies are well-established and financially secure, making them ideal partners for our organisation. Additionally, if the New York Times are willing to collaborate with us, their involvement would be highly valuable.

Furthermore, I would like to include representatives from DV360, The Trade Desk, Microsoft, and Amazon as well as C-level executives from each of the major holding companies. It would also be beneficial to include a few reputable advertisers such as Target, General Motors, Verizon, Expedia, Disney, Pfizer, Chase, etc. This group can’t just be publishers to work, it needs advertisers and agencies, covering all ends of the advertising spectrum. 

Urgent proactive measures are needed

Regrettably, it is anticipated that several prominent US-based publishers might face significant challenges soon, with the need to scale back the brands they support. These publishers include Buzzfeed, The Arena Group, Bustle, G/O Media, Conde Nast, Hearst, Vox, Red Ventures, Ziff Davis, Trusted Media, Vice, Nexstar, and many, many others. While acknowledging the potentially distressing nature of this information, it is crucial to communicate it to instil a sense of urgency and address the need for proactive measures. In fact, DotDash Meredith is currently doing this by prioritising core brands.

My ability to bridge connections between people is where I excel, and I intend for this pursuit to be the most impactful connection I make. Even if I don’t achieve success, I find solace in knowing I’ve made an effort. After all, failure is the natural consequence of choosing inaction.

With years of deep dedication to the digital publishing realm, I now embrace the mission of ensuring its endurance and stability for the foreseeable future.

Amidst the challenges faced by digital publishing, the industry’s resilience shines brightly. It will emerge from this period of adversity renewed and fortified, brimming with innovation. Digital publishing will not only survive but also flourish, providing even greater value to the entire ecosystem. While the path ahead might be rocky, it is the challenges that ultimately propel digital publishing to new heights, enriching the entire ecosystem. 

The Publishing Phoenix will rise! 

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
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  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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