RATIONALE: Why publishers need first-party data | the RJI Information Trust project in 2016

This explanation was written Jan. 12, 2016 by David Gehring in his role as a Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute research fellow. 

By David Gehring
Traditional publishers now clearly know that “first-party” user data is fundamental to their business going forward.  Most, if not all, use analytics platforms extensively and have devised methods for aggregating user data themselves as their users engage with their products and platforms.  
This data is leveraged in a variety of ways including: to improve products and services with an understanding of user behaviors; to improve advertising monetization rates by informing audience targetability and driving engagement through tailored recommendations and relevant content and in the context of paid models, to drive users through the customer acquisition funnel toward becoming paid subscribers.
Without robust first-party data, a publisher cannot hope to grow or manage their business.
However, even if a publisher aggregates, manages and takes full advantage of all this user data in beautifully structured ways, no publisher has sufficient independent audience reach to support scaling the revenue lines effectively on their own.  
Additionally, very few publishers can afford the data science expertise and organizational depth to know what data to aggregate and how best to leverage the data toward driving product innovation and optimizing monetization.  These skills and talents are not typical of a journalistically focused organization.
Making matters more complicated, off-platform distribution is now fundamentally required for audience scale.  Production of quality content and its distribution (or audience engagement) are irreversibly disintermediated.  The proliferation of platforms and distribution technologies has, at best, severely segmented the technical requirements for benefiting from user data and at worse, the market segmentation has made the aggregation of user data significantly more challenging to begin with.
Publishers (and platforms) need help.
Standardizing the structure for user data and facilitating a method for sharing user data across a network or exchange that respects the user’s privacy could go a long way to increasing efficiency and optimization in the publishing business.
This project is focused on landscaping the current activities in the marketplace designed to:

  • Define the benefits of an industry-standard approach to user data
  • Discover the efforts currently underway that seek to address the problem
  • Discern a role for the Reynolds Journalism Institute that positions the institute to play a part in perpetuating an industry solution