Publishers Need to Reclaim Their Share of Ad Dollars

By Debra Fleenor Debra Fleenor has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on March 24, 2023

Publishers need ad dollars to pay staff and maintain the healthy media democracy relies on.

“News publishers once got almost all the money from ads on their content, but that’s fallen to as little as thirty cents on the dollar.”

This quote from Chokepoint Capitalism, by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow, summarizes the bleak state of our media ecosystem. Now that most people get their news and content online, digital ad brokers take a disproportionate share of the value created by content generators like writers and journalists.

The results have been grave. Publishers have been increasingly beholden to brokers and have had to cut costs, undergo mass layoffs, and many have shuttered altogether. Not only is this bad for the publishers and creators, but it’s bad for content consumers. When creators no longer have a means for expression, culture suffers. When news publishers can no longer invest in meaningful journalism, democracy suffers.

Now, the looming deprecation of the third-party cookie on Chrome threatens to further disrupt digital publisher revenue opportunities by hindering their ability to offer targeted inventory. But there’s an opportunity for the publishers who are paying attention.

Publishers didn’t have to be beholden to data brokers, but they gave their data away in the early days of the internet, trusting that those brokers would help them monetize their content equitably. Often, though, brokers would undercut the publisher or cut publishers out of the sale entirely. For example, thanks to third-party cookies, advertisers are able to attract audiences of particular publications through a cookie that identifies individuals as readers of the respective publication without paying the publisher at all.

Many publishers are implementing first-party data strategies to fortify their revenue opportunities. Fewer publishers are thinking about first-party data as a means to reclaim agency over their inventory and evolve the media ecosystem altogether.

It’s important that they start. Publishers should use this opportunity to reclaim their fair share of value generated by the essential content that they produce. This allows them to also reestablish some agency over their production and monetization efforts and put money back into content like unbiased news and journalism. More money in publishers’ pockets means more money paid to these journalists and creatives who are ushering culture forward.

The real shift will happen when publishers work together toward this end. While smaller publishers are not likely to amass enough first-party data to interest advertisers, a collective of publishers can provide attractive segmentation offerings across properties. New GDPR-safe formats like Seller Defined Audiences (SDAs) are making that possible.

The inflection point in our media ecosystem caused by increasing concerns about data privacy and the deprecation of the third-party cookie will allow us to redefine the paradigm of publishing. It’s time for publishers to claim their seat at the table.

By Debra Fleenor Debra Fleenor has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Debra Fleenor is the founder and president of Adapex Inc., an adtech leader recognized by Deloitte as one of the fastest growing companies in North America and listed to the Inc 5000 in 2021. A serial entrepreneur and sought-after consultant, Fleenor is credited with two successful exits of 8-figure companies and more than 20 years driving disruptive innovation for tech startups. She’s an Admonsters and Folio: Top Women in Media honoree, and sought after thought leader on tech topics - from web 3.0 and the metaverse to artificial intelligence and the evolution of data privacy.

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