During COVID-19, Commerce is More Important Than Ever for Publishers. Here’s What They Should Know.

Traffic is up. Ad revenues are down. COVID-19 has turned publishing on its head, and publishers are scrambling to find new ways to diversify revenues under changing conditions.

It’s not impossible. It’s just different. The ever-evolving media landscape is accelerating down an unexpected course. Here’s what we can do about it.

With Ads Diminishing, Focus on Subscriptions—Even if You’re Dropping Paywalls

The New York Times and many other publishers have taken down paywalls for coronavirus-related coverage. That combined with the amount of time people now have to stay home on their computers or mobile devices has created a surge in traffic for publishers. But ad revenues are down, and are expected to plummet even deeper.

According to president and CEO Mark Thompson, The New York Times predicted a ten percent drop in ad revenues this quarter; they’ve seen an actual net drop of 15.2 percent. Next quarter they’re expecting a 50% drop, with “limited visibility” beyond that. It’s grim, and it’s not much different for publishers across the industry.

Despite the disappearing ad dollars, revenues at the Times are increasing. Thompson reports subscriptions are up 5.4 percent, enough to haul overall revenues into the black for a year over year increase of one percent. The Times is moving away from an over-reliance on advertising and seeing record subscription numbers during COVID-19. But subscriptions aren’t the only solution.

With Experiential Events On Hold, Focus on Commerce

Last spring, publishers were gathering in Monaco to discuss diversification through experiential events. But a year on, those strategies have gone out the window. Millennials have suddenly stopped buying experiences, a direct result of the pandemic and a change no one saw coming.

But quarantine has brought opportunities along with obstacles, and publishers need to focus on the ways we can diversify by helping people through this crisis instead of wringing our hands over the losses. Commerce is an essential function of surviving social distancing for the consumer, and it’s a way publishers can meet readers where they’re at.

Deliver Value to the Reader With Timely and Necessary Products

A word of caution: ecommerce isn’t magically booming just because we’re all homebound. As it turns out, it’s complicated. Consumers are saving their money and spending primarily on essential goods. This means flatlines or worse for luxury ecommerce brands, and pressure on supply chains at major retailers like Target and Walmart. Even though by some metrics ecommerce activity has jumped, it might not be sustainable over the long term.

Now more than ever, your readers need products that help them. How can publishers use commerce to solve problems like loneliness, boredom, stir-crazy kids, the rent crisis, or the lack of flour and toilet paper on grocery store shelves? How can we make trips out less frequent or necessary for our readers? Be prepared to stretch your product offerings for these unprecedented times.  At Digital Trends we concentrated effort around at-home fitness which we saw outperform.

Make Searching For Your Products as Easy as Possible

At this point, it should be clear that effective SEO is no longer a spotlight grab, but rather an authentic assist in reaching out to those who are looking for you. That means the best description of your product will be simple, accurate, thorough and clear.

Copy surrounding products should be direct and to the point, articulated for SEO, and addressing questions your customers have before they ask it. The best approach is not to treat this as an SEO contest with your competitors (even though it still is), but to imagine you and the customer are the only two entities in cyberspace, trying to find each other. Don’t meet them halfway. Do all the work for them.

Take a Service-Driven Strategy to Commerce

One of the best ways to get your products through to customers is by providing multiple options for them to purchase from.  You don’t need to choose between eBay, Amazon, or Walmart.  Use them all.  With major swings to inventory, your customers will need alternatives to buy from if their go-to retailer is out of stock.  With increased traffic levels, and need higher than ever, now is a perfect time to gain learning about your audience’s behavior.

Commerce is becoming a more critical pillar of publishing, but it has to be done right to make up for lost ad revenues. For now, honing your commerce offerings and strategies is one of the best ways to prop up your company while simultaneously reaching out to assist your readers. While the future of this pandemic may still have some surprises in store, it’s the publishers who are light on their feet that are helping everyone to get through this—and keeping revenues coming in.