Is the Future of Online Publishing in South America?

August 1st, 2013 by Ben M.

In my time at Chartbeat, I’ve seen some pretty exciting stuff from publishers across the world. It’s been awesome to see some of the largest news sites move away from transactional metrics like page views and bounce-rate to ones that focus on quality – the minutes and seconds that readers spend actively reading, scrolling or commenting on an article – or what some people call engagement.

Through an intricate ballet of trial and error, newsrooms in Western Europe and the United States have developed reproducible workflows to convert first-time visitors into a loyal following; all by surfacing their highest-quality content every moment in every day.

Newsrooms now see each piece of content as an entry point for their respective sites, hoping to generate an engaging article that funnels users inward. Despite seismic shifts in the way people are accessing content online, the most basic principles of time and quality still apply.

When people ask about Chartbeat, I often recount the role we’ve played and continue to play in the aforementioned markets. Yet the progress and potential on the horizon for emerging markets like South America, Africa and the Middle East makes me realize how important metrics like engagement will be going forward.

Let’s start with South America. Considering the volume of people we work with in South America, I’ve started to see some trends in conversations that are shaping my perspective on the region. As I build on this perspective, I’m hoping to tap into the vast array of expertise and experience amongst those who populate this blog. In other words: weigh in!

First, let’s set the stage:

Worldwide News Consumption: Lack of Engagement

A few staggering stats on the worldwide consumption of news content from World Press Trends:

  • Nearly 50% of all online users visit news sites. The issue is how frequently they visit them, the length of their stay and how actively they are engaged.

  • 7% of all online visits are to newspaper sites

  • Digital populations spend 1.3% of their time on newspaper sites

  • Newspaper visits make up .9% of total pages visited

The good news is that the audience is there. The opportunity? Though the audience is showing up, they aren’t sticking around or coming back to news sites. Acquiring new traffic is historically difficult and you have to grab potential users in environments you don’t fully control.

But when the challenge is keeping your audience around, the power is fully in your hands. You control what people see, read, and watch when they are on your site. Our research shows that increasing the amount of time each reader spends with you on a particular article also increases the probability that they will come back again in the near future.

With newspaper circulation sliding in the more mature markets (newspaper circulation has declined by 4.3 percent in the United States and 3.4 percent in Europe (WAN)) these publishers are fighting a battle on two fronts. Yet circulation and traffic is actually growing in South America. The traffic acquisition outlook is much healthier.

South American Growth
  • Newspaper circulation grew 3.3 percent last year in Latin America (WAN)

  • Advertising revenue from newspapers is up 37.6% in Latin America (World Press Trends)

  • Internet user penetration in Latin America alone is expected to rise 11% in the next 3 years. (New Media Trend Watch)

  • Dozens of journo and news-focused organizations are firmly planted in the digital space. Take, for example, the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, or Inter American Press Association, which maintains a heavy online presence.

South America: A Growing Audience Ripe for Engagement

The major decline in circulation in the more mature markets is making it even harder to engage the user base; there’s less and less territory to work with. Yet in South America we’re seeing year-on-year growth. As all parts of the market are expanding, South American Publishers have the chance to harness the metrics that folks in the more mature markets have only recently discovered - the one’s focused on time and engagement. Publishers in mature markets are at the helm of a much larger ship on a different course. They’re having to rethink and restructure current workflows AND find ways to find new users.

In South America, conversely, have new users flowing through the front/side door, and with more and more people coming online, that trend is sure to continue. South American publishers, unsaddled with the old habits, can start focusing on the right metrics at the right time and develop workflows in the newsroom that actually help build and retain audience. They have the technical and tactical advantages that focus and revolve around these quality-based metrics.

Here at Chartbeat we have found that the amount of time somebody spends actively engaging with your content is directly correlated to their propensity to return to your site, thus to building long-term audience. Publishers focusing on this quality in the nascent stage of development will build a tradition of journalism that not only promotes relevant and hyper-specific content, but one that will also help increase returning users month over month - creating the sustainable growth that advertisers invest in. Combine that with rapid growth of the online news ecosystem and we have an industry/sector suited for growth - to say the least. The cherry on top: publishers who experience these successes today - Clarin, for example - will begin teaching younger generations, in JSchool and beyond, how to create sustainable online-news models.

“The news industry’s future is about how citizens engage and participate in their society,” said Vincent Peyrègne, CEO of WAN-IFRA”;  South America is in a unique place to help shape this future, to realize what might be the most profitable publishing model the world has seen.

Thoughts? Comments? What am I missing or misinterpreting? Let me know in the Comments section.