Magazines Register

Big Data: Is It Living Up to Its Potential, or Overstepping Its Bounds?

As magazine publishers must increasingly compete with social media, mobile, and other types of content distribution, providing the right content via the right channel becomes ever more important. Today, you can’t just look at page views and unique visitors when evaluating and serving up content. You need to dive deeper to provide the optimal user experience ― the personalized experience they’ve come to expect from other platforms like Facebook and Amazon. But there’s a limit to what you could and should do with big data, and what you shouldn’t. Here’s an overview of the use (and misuse) of big data in a magazine publishing enterprise.


The promise of big data

Media companies, including magazine publishers, are moving away from the subscriber/retention business model and moving to a user-centric relationship model. Customer insights are crucial to a customer-centric publishing model, and data is the foundation of customer insights. By collecting data and gaining insight about how users use their website and consume their content, publishers can engage with readers according to their preferences.

It’s no longer enough to collect page visits and click throughs. You also need to collect data across all channels to see how the same user is interacting with site content, as well as email newsletters, social media, and even their print magazines. All this data should be stored in a central, unified data center where it can be analyzed, cross-referenced, and filtered. By using artificial intelligence (AI) tools on this data, publishers can further personalize user experiences, as well as deliver finely targeted audiences to advertisers.

Possible pitfalls of using big data

Although data is one of a magazine publisher’s most important company assets, there are a few caveats to its use. By using the data to target specific audiences, you can fine-tune your content to meet their needs. The problem arises when you keep niching down, and you slice and dice your audience into smaller and smaller segments. They are certainly targeted, but there won’t be enough individuals to make a publication, marketing campaign, or event profitable. And when you get that personal, there could be backlash due to the “creepiness factor.” Some readers are uneasy when you demonstrate how much you know about them, their habits, and their preferences.

There’s also the issue of privacy. Privacy concerns are increasingly becoming an issue with consumers and they are beginning to push back. Publishers need to be transparent about what data they are collecting and how they are using it. They also must provide a way for subscribers to opt out of data collection. Securing this data is paramount. The ongoing problem of large data breaches not only has users on edge, but enterprises too are struggling to ensure the security of the customer data they have stored.

Another consequence of using big data to provide targeted content according to user preferences, is that publishers are reinforcing the knowledge and beliefs of the reader rather than introducing new ideas. It may make introducing new types of content and innovative concepts more difficult.


The middle ground

To take advantage of the potential of big data and to avoid some of the pitfalls, magazine publishers ― other than large mega-publishers ― should concentrate on a specific niche and serve it with relevant content across multiple channels. Use articles to draw readers to your website, and then surface relevant video, audio, and animations to bring new engagement areas for users throughout your website. You can also use the data to:

  • Diversify content and create new revenue streams such as podcasts or e-commerce for relevant products
  • Manage flexible paywalls by determining which users are likely to pay for which content
  • Customize ― not personalize ― survey readers to determine their desired level of personalization

A publisher’s marketing, editorial, and advertising departments need to work together to optimize operations and revenue, and with a central data repository, these business units can maximize the opportunities that all this data represents. But it’s important to find a middle ground where you customize content without compromising your readers’ sense of privacy.

Contact your Sheridan representative or visit our contact page to ask how we can help you streamline your publishing processes, reduce costs, and keep up with changes in print and publishing strategies.

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