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Digital publishing trends for 2020 - 3. The lure of the walled gardens

  • 25 December 2019 by
  • Krishna Kumar
Digital publishing trends for 2020 - 3. The lure of the walled gardens

A walled garden on the internet is a place where lots of readers are available, and you can post content for them. but both access and posting are controlled in some fashion. Garden due to the presence of a beautiful audience; walled because of the controls. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Apple news, Linkedin, Google news, Twitter… all of them are walled gardens and they all work the same way in this context. They start off encouraging publishers to post content and even incentivize and promote that content initially. Once a certain tipping point is reached, they throttle back the reach of the content and ask you to pay up to increase reach! You start paying small amounts and soon your walled garden bills are substantial. In the next step, they demand that the content be exclusive to them. Then they want the content fully inside the garden with no links to your site…and it continues. While initially the walled garden gives you easy pickings of new audiences and more reach, this is not a game that the publishers, particularly the smaller ones can win in the long run.

So much for content and reach; what about advertising revenues? Walled gardens run advertisements on content posted by others. reports quoting industry analyst WARC that Google and Facebook's share of the global online ad market would be 61.4 per cent in 2019, up from 56.4 per cent in 2018. That is a forecasted 2019 combined revenue of $176.4 billion USD at 22% growth! Add Amazon to this list and you have 70% of the online advertising spends accounted for, says Meanwhile, online ad revenues for everyone else combined would have gone down by 7.2% for the year.

So, there you are - a double whammy!

I am not advocating that you do not use these services. There are a number of questions that you need to juggle with, and no one has all the answers yet. How much should you leverage a wall garden? How much should you invest with them and for how long? I know of publishers who bet on one platform or the other and lost heavily on the audiences when the platform changed their rules. Do you have a way to lure at least some of the audience out of the garden and directly on to your site? And finally, when they tighten the screws, can you exit without losing too much of a share of your audience? On the advertising front, do you have some revenue streams that are independent of these platforms? And can you change your revenue models quickly enough when the platforms change their rules?


This article is part of a series on Digital Publishing trends for 2020. You can read the others in this series below

1. It is the reader, not the content
2. Long tail content comes into play to increase pageviews
4. Is custom content the new king?
5. Programmatic advertising and other technology nightmares
6. The bot brigade and more such frauds
7. What is happening to affiliate revenues?
8. The second digital transformation is well on its way
9. Are paywalls really the next big opportunity?