Martin Ashplant is the Digital Director at urban newspaper Metro, returning to a board-level role having previously been the newspapers Head of Digital Content. Martin is responsible for taking a lead role in digital strategy, as well as overseeing online and app product launches. Ahead of his presentation at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in London this October 19-20, we sat down with Martin to discuss the industry and how Metro are handling current challenges.
How have you seen the digital publishing industry change over the last year?
The digital publishing industry has always changed at a rapid pace but the last 12 months have been tumultuous even by its standards. We've seen ad blocking go from being a concern of the few to the biggest talking point in the industry and something which many publishers are now taking direct action against. Facebook has also given many publishers reason to adapt their strategies, with its focus on live video and algorithm changes keeping everyone on their toes. Couple that with increasing challenges in making digital advertising pay the bills and it paints the picture of a challenging - if highly exciting - time to be in digital media.
What could the industry be doing to better meet consumer expectations?
User experience should always be at the forefront of what the industry does and we have sometimes been guilty of not focusing on this enough. Monetisation and a publisher's growth strategy are, of course, crucial but if users don't enjoy the product then the pursuit of these objectives can be futile.
How much of a place - if any - do you think personalisation has in digital publishing?
Personalisation, done well, should be something all publishers are looking closely at right now. At Metro, we believe there is a massive consumer demand to help cut through the noise of infinite available content by providing a finishable set of stories which are relevant to each user. We are using artificial intelligence to achieve this goal - and the objective is always to learn what it is that each user is interested in and provide them with the most relevant content for them.
What are in your experience the most common mistakes made by digital publishers?
The saying that 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should' rings true for digital publishers. I think that we can sometimes get carried away with what tech enables us to do, particularly around advertising, without properly stopping to consider whether that offers genuine value for the user.
How can digital publishers best respond to the overwhelming shift toward video content?
Publishers need to be smart on this one. Investing lots of money into digital production studios if you've no heritage in video may not be the wisest thing to do. Likewise, jumping headfirst into something very much driven by the big tech platforms leaves you open to being left high and dry if they change tack. Again, the best thing to do here is to consider what you can offer your particular users in relation to video which has value to them.
Where do you see digital publishing going next?
I think there may well be a return to the focus on growing a smaller but more engaged audience for your product. Chasing mass audiences doesn't always help grow your revenues and can often put you in danger of being perceived as no different to everything else out there. I can see publishers starting to become more concerned with how users are consuming their products rather than how many users are consuming their products.