2021 Digital Publishing Trends

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    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and...Read more

    As we have entered into the second year of COVID, we still see the rise in digital publishing trends — perhaps more than ever before.

    “The pandemic has really changed the global scenery for digital publishers. It is a time to get closer to the community and meet their needs.” – says Fabíola Mousinho, Digital Media Analyst at the Portuguese newspaper “Público

    We Are Social research shows “4.66 billion people around the world use the internet in January 2021, up by 316 million (7.3 per cent) since this time last year.” We have started to see how those changes differ from 2020, which trends phased out, and which trends stuck around.

    Let’s look at some of the most important digital publishing trends for 2021.

    Stay up to date on the latest news, trends, and best practices in digital publishing.

    1. No-Code and Low-Code Platforms

    Having user-friendly platforms and requiring low code, or even better, no code, to build a website, landing page, e-books, blog, e-shop is the biggest trend in 2021. These platforms create a huge opportunity for publishers and content creators to move online without needing to hire a web developer and build with great speed and efficiency.

    Ben May, CEO of The Code Company elaborates by saying, “Working with hybrid no/low-code solutions and bespoke development offers the best of both words for media companies. Leveraging these solutions allows smaller teams to have greater autonomy and control over their products, without having to require an engineering team to make many of the common day-to-day changes.”

    Platforms such as Squarespace, WordPress, Airtable, Shopify, to name a few, were on the rise in 2020 and will continue into 2021, as organizations take a more customer-centric approach and meeting their audience demands.

    2. AI Generated Content

    Another trend that is ready to dominate the digital publishing landscape is the adoption of AI-generated content.

    AI-Generated content revolves around 3Ps – Propagation, Persistence, and Personalization.

    Publishers invest heavily in generating insightful, original, and high-quality content to attract their target audience. However, with every new and trendy content, each old piece of content quickly sinks.

    This is where AI content aggregation helps. It recognizes trending stories and the current ones correlated with them and allows that original content to resurface and propagate alongside the new trending story.

    This similar content gives much-needed context for users facing information overload and incites the customer-publisher relationship by adding value.

    AI Generated Content

    AI also empowers digital publishers to know their audience at a much deeper level. It helps analyze the users’ data – how they interacted with the site and their preferences. This way, it becomes easy for publishers to develop detailed profiles and automatically serve the content that appeals to their visitors and users.

    It helps in probing the data created when users interact with their sites and cross-referencing with user’s stated preferences when they register. As a result, publishers can develop detailed profiles to automatically serve content and ads that are highly likely to appeal to users.

    In the coming times, publishers can turn this adolescent anxiety into teenage kicks. Start analyzing the useful and accessible ways machine learning can help them in overcoming the challenges of disruption.

    Big Brands like Chase are using AI to give more human touch to their copywriting process. By inculcating machine learning in their copywriting process, they achieved more humanity in their marketing.

    They compared the below two ads:

    Human Version: Access cash from the equity in your home.

    AI-Generated Version: It’s true—You can unlock cash from the equity in your home.

    And, the latter version actually performed better with customers.

    3. Goodbye to Third-Party Cookies

    Apple and Mozilla announced it would block third-party cookies for its Firefox and Safari apps. And On June 24, 2021, Google announced its delayed plans to phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser until 2023.

    So, we think it’s safe to predict publishers can say goodbye to them. This will create a huge change to the industry and how ads will target consumers more individually and allow content to be more personalized through contextual advertising.

    According to a recent study (download required) by Epsilon, 80% of marketers depend on third-party cookie data as well, as 70% believe that the depreciation of third-party cookies will result in a descending shift for marketing technology.

    Strategies to Overcome Depreciation of Third Party Cookies

    • Privacy Sandbox: Google is proposing a new alternative to third-party cookies – Privacy Sandbox. It includes various features to provide a safe place for people to browse while collecting consumer behavior anonymously. In short, advertisers can collect aggregated data about ad performance without identifiers.
    • FLoc: Federated Learning of Cohorts, also known as FLoC, is Google’s main replacement for third-party cookie data collection. FLoC utilizes machine learning to allow users to group with related interests and browsing behaviors. With FLoC, Google will now store data in each individual’s Chrome browser. It will not be distributed to other domains to be tracked and would remain with the user.
    • First-Party Solutions: Focusing on first-party data and building deeper relationships with your audience should be the brand’s priority with third-party depreciation.

    First Party Data

    Source: Dialogtech

    First Party Solutions are built and owned by a brand. They are the foundation for navigating the new media landscape. Brands that embrace a first-party identity graph can render any uncertain changes made by Big Tech.

    Moreover, building an identity graph helps brands generate a consistent understanding of their consumers and their relationships with those brands.

    Identity graphs can unify digital and offline first-party data to inform the single user view and control the changes over time.

    4. Meet the New Consumers – Generation Alpha

    Alphas are also named “upagers.” Generation Alpha depicts the future and provides a lens to look to the next decade and beyond.

    Changing Generations 2020

    Source: Jeweller Magazine

    Alphas are younger and highly engaged with their surroundings, and as high level researchers, they become consumers more quickly.

    This is essentially a result of their unparalleled global connectivity through technology.

    Indeed, the first Alphas were born when the word “app” was discovered, and apps like Instagram were launched.

    Alphas are here to stay by attaining more formal education by 2050. As a result, they are expected to become the largest generation of middle-class consumers our world will ever see.

    Changing Generation 2050

    Source: Jeweller Magazine

    While Generation Alpha may still seem far, with this tech-savvy modern world, where the pace of technological change is high, organizations need to focus on these consumer habits to be prepared before they begin shopping.

    5. Share & Create Short Videos: Instagram Reels and TikTok

    Stories have been a huge rising trend over the past few years, starting with Snapchat. Then Instagram and Facebook followed along. Now, the newest trend, following the explosion of TikTok, is Instagram Reels. IG Reels are very similar to a TikTok post, a short video that can be edited with effects, photos, video, and text, to create informational and engaging posts.

    According to Instagram Brands 100 report, Instagram’s ‘Reels’ are now used by 40% of consumer brands.

    This is a huge trend for 2021 and another way to stay relevant online. The most popular Reels to use are informational, such as a trendy recipe, current events, a workout routine, or a chance to show followers the brand or person behind the scenes.

    Brands like the National Geographic are connecting with their audience Social video that advocates education, learning, and discovery, making content platform agnostic.

    National Geographic's Instagram Reels

    Source: Webby Awards

    6. Driving Traffic with SEO and Updated Content

    Having optimized SEO on your website and online content is a huge way for publishers to get seen in 2021. From our digital trends of 2020 post, “According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021, search engines are now the third most important traffic source to news sites after direct access and social media. Additionally, 25% of people in the US accessed their news through websites and apps This continues to climb as more people are using the internet and their phones daily.

    More and more publishers and brands are realizing that traffic for the sake of traffic is not enough. Sure, it’s enough to make a buck off of display ads. Still, without a unique voice and even a moral stance that an audience member can really get behind, online publishers are missing out on trust—and the loyalty that will sustain a business long-term. It’s not about users or views. It’s about real people and how well you’re connecting with them and giving them a compelling, emotional reason to be loyal to your publication. – Sarah Tolle, Editor/Content Strategist at Black & White Zebra.

    Google algorithms are always evolving, so focusing more on quality, clear topic-driven content rather than keywords will bring your brand to the forefront on search engines. In addition, content that includes current events and trends will also get you in front of new audiences and signal freshness and recency.

    Source: Pew Research

    Coming to getting the news content, more than eight-in-ten Americans get news from digital devices, including smartphones, computers, and tablets. It is much higher than the portion who get news from television.

    The digital platforms that Americans prefer for getting the news are mainly 26% of news websites, 12% search results, 11% social media, and 3% podcasts. However, Americans aged 18 to 29 stand out in that the most common digital way they get news is through social media.

    7. eCommerce Has Grown Significantly in Diversifying Publisher Revenue

    Publishers expect that eCommerce will become a greater revenue source in 2021, according to a December 2020 Lotame survey. A majority (62%) of US publishers said they expected eCommerce to rank among their three biggest revenue sources in Q1 2021—and 36% said it would be their No. 1 source of revenues. Additionally, affiliate advertising ranked among the top three revenue sources for 31% of respondents, with 9% anticipating it to be their top revenue source.

    Let’s understand these examples of publishers to know how you can connect digital content to a retail opportunity.


    With a commerce revenue of $250 million across various revenue streams such as licensed products, affiliates, ads, and products development, Buzzfeed has generated the idea of cultural buzz and turned it into a product that’s ready to sell in a few days.

    BuzzFeed has moved far beyond the traditional publishing roles and affiliate marketing. Instead, with the deep knowledge of their audience, they are developing products targeted specifically for them.

    They are creating a multi-channel marketplace such as Buzzfeed’s Amazon shop in addition to their eCommerce websites to deploy their new products.

    The New York Times

    New York Times, sells books, branded apparel, archival photography, and personalized front page reprints. Their USP is high-quality products; the publisher continues its own stock.

    One major takeaway for publications from their experience is to make sure your products align with your brand and deliver real value to your readers.

    Seeking an eCommerce strategy empowers digital publishers to deliver value to advertisers and bring consumers closer to the brand. And, yes, of course, the cash perks.

    For an eCommerce approach to work, it is vital to ensure that your digital content is part of your online shopping experience both in terms of decision making and discoverability.

    8. Navigating the Creator Economy Gold Rush

    Content creators are moving on from just relying on paid ads and product placements. A report by SignalFire states that the creator economy (influencers, bloggers, and videographers) is 50 million strong. Content Creators StatsAs the space evolves, publishers/brands will need to rework their monetization strategies to look at how creators will work for them beyond promoting a product.

    The Top Three Trends in the Creator Economy

    • Creators shifting their fans to personal assets: Creators are on their way to moving their top fans towards their monetization tools such as their personal site, app, or Youtube channel.
    • Creators turning into founders: Creators are all set to build their teams and collect tools to help them start businesses while focusing on their digital content creation process.
    • Creators are becoming more powerful in the media ecosystem: People connect with individual personalities rather than faceless publishers, becoming more influential and powerful.

    The most prominent trend here is that creators are growing more diversified in terms of their revenue streams and have made fans shift towards their assets.

    They won’t rely as much on brands as they shift to become direct-to-consumer businesses. Instead of being associated with a brand through a sponsored post, they would have the opportunity to sell directly to their customers.

    For years, the content creator economy ran by earning money via sponsorships and ad revenue-sharing platforms. But, according to the research from influencer marketing firm Mediakix, In 2019, the sponsorship market reached $8 billion and is estimated to hit $15 billion by 2022.

    Influencer Marketing Global Spend

    Source: Media Kix

    Creators are the experts here. They have all that required knowledge to understand what content resonates with their audiences. Hence, to win and grow the revenue, the brands and creators need to cultivate strong partnerships with each other and their respective audiences.

    9. Media Mergers Transforming The News Industry

    Media Mergers considerably impact the overall news industry and how publicists sell stories to reporters.

    A special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) is a corporation that takes companies public without going through the traditional initial public offering process.

    Though SPACs are have been around for decades, it has gained traction after high-profile names such as 23andMe, Taboola, and BuzzFeed recently opted to debut via SPAC.

    SPAC Merger

    Source: CB Insights

    According to NBC (when they acquired Telemundo), they were sure to create a more potent news force for the Hispanic community. But sadly, it didn’t work that way.

    Traditionally, Media Mergers are done to save costs, eliminate bodies and reduce overlapping roles.

    How Media Mergers Impact the Overall News Industry?

    A Commercial Value Required for News Stories

    News organizations need to turn their stories into profit. If it doesn’t generate an audience, it’s unlikely to move forward. The best approach for media publishers is to look for the viewer or reader payoff before pitching the story.

    Freelancers Are More Authorized

    To get their paycheck, freelance journalists need to sell stories. Typically freelance writers and producers have a connection with multiple news outlets. This means selling one story to a freelancer of their choice will have a profitable result for your brand since they can sell it to executive producers and editors with several outlets.

    News organizations are shifting their TV segments on the web as well. This means these stories also need to sell on the web.

    All in all, if a product or service needs to get its publicity, think of its USP first. Recognize the original value or monetary interest in the story and sell it. Then, if publishers can blend that into the messaging, you’re more likely to surmount these new disruptors changing the media climate with every news acquisition.

    Wrapping Up

    Kristopher Maske, Head of Publishing, UPROXX, says they anticipate a blend of challenges and opportunities in 2021 that will continue to reshape the digital publishing landscape. Publishers must identify audience growth and content opportunities to position their brands for the future while continuing to offer robust, transactable ad products to an uneasy market concerned about the lack of predictability around tentpoles and cultural events. Striking this balance while maximizing resources is the name of the game.

    To stay up-to-date with the digital publishing trends, digital publishers need to stay flexible and acknowledge the challenges ahead. One thing that all these digital publishing trends for 2021 have in common is high-quality content.

    Publishers need to focus on creating content that your readers can resonate with and has the potential to drive revenue for your publication.



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