Journalistic Integrity and the Rise of Embedded E-Commerce

The media industry is currently undergoing one of the most significant periods of change in its history. The technological age in which we live has propelled the parallel rise of digital publishing, which has enabled new formats and technological possibilities that are completely reshaping how the mass media communicates and interacts with its audience.

2020 was not an easy year, but it taught us many important lessons. Perhaps one of the most important was that the news media in all of its forms is as crucial and necessary as it ever has been. In times of crisis, people need and turn to independent quality journalism.

At the same time that the media industry’s importance has been reaffirmed, the digital publishing landscape is changing rapidly. Many publishers are facing significant challenges, and the very fundamentals of media economics are evolving too.

One of the biggest drivers of change is the increasingly unequal distribution of the ad sales market. And the onset of the Covid-19 crisis massively accelerated the slow but imminent downfall of the advertising focused revenue model for publishers. In this post-advertising world, media companies need to find new ways of earning revenue.

Experts see the key to answering these challenges in the diversification of income and the move from an advertising-led to a more consumer-focused media model. Embedded e-commerce offers a solution to both approaches.

Publishers can now sell to their readers directly from their publications and content. It allows them to build a resilient new revenue model, apart from ad sales and affiliate networks. Additionally, this approach creates an opportunity to better engage with readers and to foster brand loyalty, putting the reader and their needs at the center. 

The Importance of Journalistic Integrity

In unprecedented times like these, the value of having robust and principled journalism is self-evident. In a true democracy, one of society’s essential foundations is a news media free from political and commercial interference.

In this context, it may appear as though embedding commerce into news publishers’ articles is not compatible with the above ideals. While it is true that news editors need to ensure the clear separation of news content production and monetization, this is something that can be quite easily achieved. But what do publishers need to consider when implementing e-commerce for digital audience monetization? How can journalistic standards and values be preserved while running monetization through commercial activities?

Clarity, Curation, and Convenience

Transparency is vital for the successful implementation of a digital audience monetization that relies on e-commerce. And there is no danger of e-commerce impacting adversely on journalistic standards as long as the publishers taking this route are completely transparent with their readership. If an article contains embedded e-commerce content, it must be clearly listed as a commercial offering. This transparency not only safeguards integrity but also has the potential to turn the article into something that readers will view as value-adding.

For commercial offerings to be welcomed and received as value-adding rather than dismissed as unwanted spam, publishers must curate their commercial offerings with great care. Traditional advertising can often be looked upon as a distracting annoyance. Carefully curated direct e-commerce, on the other hand, can be tailored to complement a publisher’s reader profile. The successful production of such quality content will create a new revenue stream that also inspires greater reader engagement and interaction with the brand.

The main principles for running e-commerce for digital audience monetization:

  • Separation of monetization and content production
  • Transparency 
  • Relevancy and format of the commercial offering

Once transparency and careful curation have been taken care of, publishers must present the commercial offer in the best possible way. Convenience is king. The shopping functionalities must be user-friendly and visually aligned with the content, and the checkout experience needs to be a smooth, straightforward process that readers can complete in just a few clicks.

In adhering to the simple steps laid out above, news publishers can seamlessly incorporate e-commerce into their sites without negatively impacting journalistic integrity. If done correctly, the end result will be an enhanced reader experience that generates a new revenue stream and delivers a more engaged and invested audience.

Embedded E-commerce in Action

One prominent news publisher that has successfully navigated the complexities of marrying embedded e-commerce with journalism is Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s national news channels. DN was already exploring new revenue streams before the onset of Covid-19, and its arrival served to accelerate the shift to them taking greater ownership of a commercially driven monetization model.

As DN is a highly-respected source of news in Sweden, any implementation of e-commerce into their digital offering could not interfere with their journalistic standards. DN got around this potential problem by completely separating e-commerce from the news by adding a new shopping section to their website. The in-house commercial team carefully selects the items offered in this section to match their readers’ profile, and the products and deals are only available to subscribers.

By placing commercial monetization in a unique, specifically designed area, the offerings detract in no way from the news content. And a particularly interesting aspect of DN’s approach is that by enabling access to the discounted commercial offers to subscribers only, they elevate the value of their subscription offer and further enhance the brand’s strong connection with its readers.

DN’s approach to e-commerce is the perfect showcase project of how to run news media monetization powered by e-commerce. Their monetization is strictly separated from content production. The shopping offer is designed most transparently and placed in its designated section. The numbers show that readers find the shopping offer relevant and make use of it. 

The DN-bike, a uniquely branded product exclusively available to subscribers, is one of the most successful products of the Swedish news publisher. 

DN found in embedded e-commerce a new and reliable source for media revenue. It helps to diversify income and strengthens DN’s economic position. In addition to the new revenue stream, their embedded e-commerce program has proven to be an effective tool in growing reader loyalty and identification with the brand.

If you are interested in learning more about the unique approach to e-commerce DN is taking, please watch the INMA webinar on this topic. In this session, the DN case will be presented in-depth, showcasing this new economic media model’s advantages and structural characteristics.

The Takeaway

News publishers both legacy and new need to find alternative ways to generate revenue that go beyond traditional advertising and affiliate marketing. Embedded commerce appears perfectly positioned to offer publishers an opportunity to retake control of their destiny by breaking from the old dependency on the diminishing returns coming from advertising, and the affiliate model that drives engaged readers to third party sites.

By employing embedded e-commerce in a fully transparent and reader-focused manner, we can already see publishers dispelling any concerns that this approach poses a threat to journalistic integrity. On the contrary, embedded e-commerce done correctly, can add real value to the reader experience and foster even greater loyalty and identification with the publication.

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