There’s a lot of hysteria in the publishing industry these days about so-called ‘native content’. As in branded, paid for content, clearly marked as such, but otherwise adapted to fit the format and style of the publication.
Of course this has been happening for years. Even in the mainstream; look at many of David Ogilvy’s classic ads. Clearly ads, but intended to blend with the editorial style of the publication as much as possible. But those ads were written by an agency of course, the new trend in ‘native ads’ is for the journalists at the publisher to write that content themselves.
Again, this has been happening forever in trade magazines, the rest of the publishing industry has just recently woken up to the possibilities. It seems to have divided the industry with some people coming out passionately in favour and others equally passionately opposed. But as always the excitement and arguments on both sides of the case can lead to much misinformation and bad ideas.
In the end, if it’s the sort of content that your magazine would publish anyway, if you judge it’s actually of interest to you readers, then it shouldn’t matter if it’s paid for, it’s fine to run. If it’s something you would never want to run unless you were being paid to do it, then you’re going to undermine your brand and damage your reader’s trust if you do.
However, ‘native content’ has the potential to impact the trade magazine in a different way, due to the unique business-models some trade publishers employ.
Some magazines invest nothing in content, and only run advertorial, because it’s all they’ve got. They need this stuff, because they don’t have journalists putting anything together, and otherwise they have nothing to fit between the ads. With some of the more niche titles this can sometimes be a necessity, but it makes it hard to charge because if a customer doesn’t want to pay, the magazine may not get the content they need.
Others maintain an imaginary line between advertising and editorial, but again due to limited resources often just end up running advertorial from non-advertisers, again making it hard to start charging for it.
The third way
Trade magazines need to invest in quality content entirely independent of advertising. But having done that, they should have no problem then also running quality content from advertisers or for a fee.
How do you get good quality content from advertisers I hear you ask? Work with them to make it good, use your journalistic expertise to help them create content that fits your magazine, and will be effective for them. Charge them for it, get them results, everybody is happy. Provided you don’t fall into the trade magazine trap of relying entirely on advertiser generated content, and you continue to invest in quality original content, then the native opportunity is an exciting development for trade magazines and one that will bring benefits to publishers and advertisers alike.