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Highlights from Future of Digital Publishing Seminar

03 Jun 2011

The Future of Digital Publishing Seminar was held in Sydney last week, a joint initiative of Publishers Australia and AIMIA It was themed "The Future of Digital Publishing" and covered such topics as measuring, building and monetising digital and provided significant insight by industry leaders in this growth sector.

The following is a post from Publishers Australia with an overview of the seminar:-

While it is impossible to do justice to a complex topic in half a day, this was an excellent introduction, with some of the key players talking of their experiences and learnings to date.

The key takeaways were:

  • The importance of 3rd party measurement to enable a level playing field
  • Content isn't king - the reader is
  • Digital publishing is interactive, so take advantage of it
  • Tablets represent the biggest commercial opportunity for publishers
  • Great content and great brands still to need to be commercialised
  • The curator of content is more important than ever, particularly in content fog
  • Media is about divergence not convergence, or "media entropy" (Carl Hammerschmidt)

1. Measuring

The discussion on measurement shows that there is a lot of uncertainty and diversity of approaches, however with the recent announcement from the IAB appointing Nielsen, there is one clear path. Nevertheless developments covering the measurement of print/digital integration are still in the works.

Paul Dovas of the ABC talked about the incoming guiding principles for new digital measurement. The proposed system, based on work being done internationally by the FABC will cover branded applications, social media and digital only magazines; and distinguishes between replica, which must have the same look and feel (i.e. PDF) and non-replica digital magazines, which could be a tablet app.

The reporting model will also include measurement of digital transactions, i.e. iTunes. The new system will then measure total masthead activity over print & digital. More on this will come later in the year.

Jo Gaines of CBS Interactive stressed the importance of a level playing field and put forward a very convincing argument for consistent 3rd party measurement.

Tony Katsabaris of Adobe said that digital publishing is interactive. Not only do readers send feedback on content, but the canny editor can adjust and refresh the content on the fly depending on interest. This process engages the reader and empowers them to influence what they read next. The new publishing model also allows the monetisation of content, being able to store, deliver and bill content and deliver, depending on customer appetite, while economically delivering content across different platforms (tablet, phone, PC).

2. Monetising

James Lovatt from Lovatts was skeptical that advertising alone could pay for a digital publication, and outlined the model of using alternative channels to sell back issues through ebay and magshop. He is also looking to sell physical merchandise as well as digital content.

Rebecca Haagsma of ninemsn gave an insight into the ninemsn strategy on monetising content, including:

  • Dolly magazine demonstrated that Facebook was the best engagement tool to capture new readers and could effectively channel readers to the website and magazine. The video channel is incredibly important for driving additional revenue and is relatively easy to commercialise.
  • Economies of scale can be achieved by combining several similar titles under one umbrella lifestyle site.
  • Ninemsn has advertising to keep the content free, and it is felt that it is now too late to reverse the process to a fully paid model.

On the subject of Apps, Rebecca observed that they are expensive to develop (upwards of $50K depending on requirements) and require significant diversion of journalistic and marketing resources. They also require ongoing marketing support. She warned of the Apple approval process, particularly in relation to the time required, and Apple's dislike of gambling or alcohol content, which she had encountered. On the positive side, Ninemsn has launched the Nine Newsbreak app - already it's had 230,000 downloads. She noted that the average iPhone user has 27 apps on their phone, of which they use just 13 regularly. The challenge is to become one of those 13.

Carl Hammerschmidt of ACP also reinforced that tablets present the biggest commercial opportunity for publishers, as readers accept paying for downloading content.

Carl opined that the audience, not content, is 'king', that the reader can choose which content to view and by which means to access it. Content must serve the function, ie the device. In designing apps, utility and function are just as important as entertainment. Integration of workflow is also critical to allow scale of delivery across multiple platforms.

Carl demonstrated additional features on iPad including: 360o rotations, ‘how to' video clips, split screens to ‘compare and contrast' merchandise, GPS to locate stores. Using the example of Amazon now selling more digital books than print, Carl predicted fundamental shifts in the structure of the publishing industry: more partnership and JVs between publishers, merchants, manufacturers, marketers and developers. It's not such a surprise then that with such demand for apps, developers are demanding wage increases of 40 per cent.

Alex Burke of Tigerspike pointed out that the average engagement on tablets is 30 minutes, and this represents a huge commercial potential. Regarding app development, he observed that of 300 new tablet devices being released in the next year, 298 would be Android.

Alex presented two international case studies: The Economist digital edition has a number of new features including the ability for readers to browse that week's edition before committing to a purchase, i.e. replicating the behaviour of browsing in a newsagent. Surprisingly the podcast was the most used feature, as iPad readers often used them as audio books whilst driving. The reader feedback function was also an unexpected hit, and was higher on iPhones. The apps also include video content. The Economist integrates user profiles with web and iPad, so that the delivery of content and experience is personalised.

He said he often discussed the relative monetary value of hard and e-copy publications. The e-book has lower production costs but is valuable to the readers for being lighter, compact and portable. He described the non-linear exploration of digital readers as opposed to print readers.

Justin Etheridge of TimeOut described how TimeOut (which functions on a franchise model) has successfully moved from print to multi-channel. The digital format takes the reader on a four-stage journey, embracing social media. TimeOut analyses behaviour and responses to modify content. The TimeOut app was launched only with full sponsorship by a commercial partner. Therefore transparency is important, not only to deliver the KPIs to the sponsor, but also with the reader on the nature of the sponsorship (and the fact that advertising pays for free content). Brands are actively looking for new environments. At this stage, the app is only available on iPhone, however, they are well prepared for Android when it makes commercial sense. They have set up processes that mean 80 per cent of the work can be utilised rather than being developed from scratch.

In a discussion of the merits of mobile internet, it was noted that it is cheaper to build, however apps offer more consumer appeal, ease of use, and higher speeds, but this may change with the move to 3.5/4G.

Source: Publishers Australia

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