Prevent Facebook and Google from Killing Publishing!

I recently came across a social media post that said:

  • Amazon didn’t kill the retail industry, bad customer service did.
  • Netflix didn’t kill Blockbuster, ridiculous late fees did.
  • Uber didn’t kill the taxi business, limiting of number of taxis and fare control did.
  • Apple didn’t kill the music industry, forcing people to buy full length albums did.

Technology is not by itself the real disrupter… being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.

Given how Facebook and Google dominate the digital ad market, I would hate to see this statement added to that list one day: “Facebook and Google didn’t kill the publishing industry, ____ did.”

How would you fill in the blank? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Firing professional journalists, resulting in lower quality content and fake news, did.
  • A million pop-up ads, leading to an unbearable customer experience, did.
  • Stubbornly relying on old, dying sales and marketing channels did.

How can you secure future profit? Panicking about Facebook or Google won’t help. Listening to your customers will.

Imagine a world with high quality content, targeted exactly to a reader’s needs, delivered at the right time, on the right device, with such tremendous service that readers happily pay for access to your work. That would truly be the platinum age of media.

Whenever we work with a new publisher, guess what the first thing we do is? Listen to their customers! We typically interview and survey over 1,000 readers to fully understand what they really want. When is the last time you asked your readers what they want, went out and got it, then gave it to them?

Here’s an easy way to do so:

First, if you’ve seen me speak at any of the Niche events, you know I always start with the “Whales” – your most engaged, and enthusiastic readers. Segmenting your customer base to find these Whales will get your started on the right path, as your Whales represent the vast majority of your sales. They love you so much they want to provide useful feedback and positive word of mouth. Find 5 whales to speak with.

Personally call each of them, and ask a few easy questions

  1. Why do you like us?
  2. What dreams do we help you live?
  3. What problems do we help you solve?
  4. Is there anything else can we do to help you live your dreams or solve your problems?

Then meet with your senior management team to review your notes and decide on just one thing you’re going to do differently in the next 60 days to add value to your readers. It could be a new type of content, an irresistible offer, a new way of improving customer service, a new product all together.

Do the same exercise with your advertisers.

There are a lot of companies out there today that won’t be here tomorrow: if you look back at the 500 biggest and best companies from 50 years ago, only about 12% of them are still around.

Yet we know how to avoid this fate: listen to the customer and take immediate action on their feedback.



Rob Ristagno is the CEO and Founder of The Sterling Woods Group, a firm that builds new revenue streams for media companies and publishers. He is an expert in direct monetization of content. Prior to creating The Sterling Woods Group, Rob served as a senior executive for several niche media and e-commerce companies. He most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of America’s Test Kitchen, considered to be the gold standard in the niche media world for building diversified – and often digital – revenue streams.


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