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Publishing: The Road to Digital

Publishing has gone through tremendous change in the last 15 years.

By Pierre Montagano –

The road to digital from print has forced traditional print based publishers into becoming technology companies where delivery is as important as the content itself. This transformation has created a set of challenges that must be overcome in order for publishers to survive. Digital delivery has created huge costs to publishers who at the same time are experiencing diminishing margins on content. Many of the systems, metrics, pricing models and thinking that we relied upon in the past are antiquated. Having a compounding effect — most publishers are supporting two different infrastructures — one for print and the other for digital. Growth is “non existent” at best for print so building out the right digital infrastructure while maintaining low cost is essential and to make it even harder there are no perfect models to follow.

Focus

Publishers need to build out a digital infrastructure/ ecosystem in a cost efficient way that delivers the experience and results end users want and are willing to pay for.

Publishers know how to produce good quality content, but there is no use in having exceptional content if we can’t deliver it in an intuitive environment and it can be easily discovered. Traditional technology companies have billion of dollars and armies of software engineers that focus on UI and UX. This is not an option for most publishers so how do they compete? The bar for intuitive environments is very high as our customers expectations have been set by the gaming, music and entertainment sector.

Henry Ford was credited with saying that if he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. Asking (through surveys or focus groups) or guessing what end users want (though tempting as that may be, because of the depth of experience at publishing companies) will inevitably drive up technology build costs in less than optimal directions. The better way is to study behavior. How are customers accessing content, what do they do when they are in the platforms, what features do they use and which ones do they not?

Platform technology teams at publishing companies are under tremendous pressure to both build out features and keep the environment intuitive. This tension will not go away but can be mitigated by building out delivery platforms in a reiterative way, with many small changes versus the larger 2.0 yearly release.

Publishers need to embrace usage analytics as a way to build a cost effective digital future.

Let’s take a real example. If you think you need a new piece of functionality like social sharing why not just build the buttons on your platform (with a message “coming soon”), release it to a limited audience and then see how many people click on the button and what percentage of users does it represent in that limited space. Usage analytics can also be used to “clean house” by evaluating what features people use and don’t use on a platform. Less is more.

The road to digital from print is expensive and publishers need to find a new course forward to meet customer demand and usage analytics should be at the center.

Pierre Montagano is the Business Development Director for Squid Solutions . He has been in publishing for over 15 years working for Cambridge University Press, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson.