How Digital Publishers are Adapting for Post-GDPR Success
On May 25, the digital publishing industry entered turbulent waters, as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became law in the European Union.
Per the IAB, “The GDPR establishes new requirements on companies that collect, use, and share data about EU citizens,” including IP addresses and cookie identifiers.1 In addition, the comprehensive regulation requires any company that holds or processes the data of EU subjects to receive unambiguous consent from users to process their data.2
GDPR has serious ramifications for the digital publishing industry – most publishers utilize third-party tracking for programmatic advertising purposes.3 The financial importance of this data processing is not to be overlooked, as programmatic is currently responsible for 81 percent of total display ad spending.4
The regulation places publishers in a difficult position, forcing them to adapt their business models to accommodate GDPR’s stringent regulations.
Here are ways publishers are adapting to accommodate GDPR.
Embracing Contextual Advertising
Fearing GDPR compliancy issues, many digital publishers are growing wary of intense data processing techniques necessary for programmatic ads. The New York Times is an example, and has reportedly stopped running programmatic ads on its European sites.5
Under GDPR rules, all parties, including publishers, ad agencies and other third-party trackers are liable in the case of misused personal data.6 For this reason, contextual advertising – which targets individuals based only on the context of what they are viewing on a page – is becoming an attractive option.7
“For the foreseeable future, there will be a change in the way that agencies will have to speak to their audiences,” said Duane Thompson, head of display and programmatic advertising at Total Media. “Personalization will be diminished but contextual relevancy is how we will combat this in the short term.”8
But is this only a temporary solution? Johnny Ryan of PageFair suggests that programmatic will not be viable in the long term either, as a recent study he conducted shows that only 5 to 20 percent of individuals are likely to consent to personal data tracking – not nearly enough data for effective audience targeting.9
Aside from its less invasive data tracking, some optimists also believe that contextual could improve the effectiveness of ad campaigns.
“While audience data can tell you who someone is, contextual signals can give you an insight into the frame of mind and receptiveness to a particular message, at a particular moment, said Sam Fenton-Elstone, CEO of Anything is Possible. “For publishers, this should lead to a re-evaluation of quality, focused content that drive high levels of attention.”10
Either unwilling to drop programmatic or not yet compliant, some publications are currently choosing to block all European users from accessing their sites. Tronc has chosen to pursue this strategy.11
If a user tries to access any Tronc sites from an EU country, they are greeted with this message: “We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the E.U. market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.”12
Lee Enterprises, the fourth-largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., is also blocking its websites in the EU. A spokesman for Lee said that EU traffic “is de minimis, and we believe blocking that traffic is in the best interest of our local media clients.”13
Digital publishers are employing this strategy to avoid steep non-compliance penalties at the hand of the EU – GDPR violators can be fined up to 4 percent of their global revenue, or €20 million, whichever number is higher.14
Andrea Jelinek, head of the European Data Protection Board, hopes to quell fears that GDPR will limit the global spread of information.
Jelinek claims that this strategy by publishers will only be temporary: “I’m convinced that the loss of information won’t be that big because I’m sure that the Los Angeles Times will reopen their website – I’m sure.”15
The Washington Post has responded to GDPR by framing it as a monetization opportunity.
The publisher recently released a ‘Premium EU Subscription’ at a price of $90 per year – $30 more than a normal online subscription.16 The premium package offers subscribers a browsing experience without on-site advertising or tracking.
“This is something we’ve been working on for a long time to create transparency, minimize friction for our readers and ensure compliance,” said Miki King, vice president of marketing for The Post.17
The legality of this approach is unclear. GDPR requires that consent be freely given by users, and some argue that the subscription model forces people who are unable to pay to accept the
processing of their data.18
Legal matters aside, subscription-focused publications are likely to have an easier path to post-GDPR success than other publishers. Consumers already value their content enough to pay for it – and accept privacy terms.19
Jessica Davies of Digiday explains the financial benefits of a loyal subscriber base, writing that these publishers “won’t have to worry about programmatic revenue deficits caused by a drop in the amount of audience data they can run advertising against.”20 Publishers without significant subscriber bases do not have the same luxury.
Only three weeks into the GDPR era, the long-term effects remain to be seen. But one thing is certain: Publishers will continue to adapt as the waters begin to settle.
1. “Navigating the EU GDPR.” IAB, Interactive Advertising Bureau, 2018.
2. “EU GDPR Information Portal.” EU GDPR Portal, 2018.
3. Moses, Lucia. “The Washington Post Puts a Price on Data Privacy in Its GDPR Response – and Tests Requirements.” Digiday, Digiday, 30 May 2018.
4. Doles, Becky. “How GDPR Will Affect Programmatic Advertising.” Tune, Tune, 23 Apr. 2018.
5. Moses, Lucia. “The Washington Post Puts a Price on Data Privacy in Its GDPR Response – and Tests Requirements.” Digiday, Digiday, 30 May 2018.
6. “EU GDPR Information Portal.” EU GDPR Portal, 2018.
7. Davies, Jessica. “’Personalization Diminished’: In the GDPR Era, Contextual Targeting Is Making a Comeback.” Digiday, Digiday, 7 June 2018.
9. Ryan, Johnny. “Research Result: What Percentage Will Consent to Tracking for advertising?” PageFair, PageFair, 12 Sept. 2017.
10. Davies, Jessica. “’Personalization Diminished’: In the GDPR Era, Contextual Targeting Is Making a Comeback.” Digiday, Digiday, 7 June 2018.
11. Satariano, Adam. “U.S. News Outlets Block European Readers Over New Privacy Rules.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 May 2018.
13. Satariano, Adam. “U.S. News Outlets Block European Readers Over New Privacy Rules.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 May 2018.
14. “EU GDPR Information Portal.” EU GDPR Portal, 2018.
15. Schechner, Sam, and Natalia Drozdiak. “U.S. Websites Go Dark in Europe as GDPR Data Rules Kick In.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 25 May 2018.
16. Fuller, Melynda. “’Washington Post’ Introduces Premium EU Subscription Following GDPR.” Publishers Daily, MediaPost, 29 May 2018.
17. Moses, Lucia. “The Washington Post Puts a Price on Data Privacy in Its GDPR Response – and Tests Requirements.” Digiday, Digiday, 30 May 2018.
19. Davies, Jessica. “It’s Here! The Winners and Losers of GDPR.” Digiday, Digiday, 25 May 2018.