Custom Content, Reimagined
Back in March, my Publishing Business Group colleagues and I paid a visit to the Brown Printing Company plant near Allentown, Pa. According to their website, Brown prints over 180 consumer and business publications at this location, situated along a country road about 100 miles west of New York City and 50 miles north of Philadelphia.
Brown does a lot of work for Time Inc., and the New York metro area edition of Time magazine is printed here. It's fascinating to watch as thousands of newly-printed pages are sorted, saddle stitched, labeled and packed on pallets for immediate shipping (we were there on a Thursday afternoon; the week's edition would be in subscriber's hands by Saturday).
One of the most interesting aspects of this process is the "versionized" printing and binding of custom advertising. The monster machines are able to insert targeted content and move customized editions through the array to be packaged for delivery—in this case, high-end or lower-end automobile ads served to subscribers based on their presumed buying power.
Using the power of data and advanced technologies, printers today, as BoSacks points out in his column on page 34, are rapidly approaching the ability to tailor magazine content down to the individual level.
Surprisingly enough, for all the bells and whistles of digital media, the ability to target content based on specific viewer criteria is not yet a big part of the interactive mobile and Web experience. The reluctance, until recently, to utilize paywalls and digital subscriptions is no doubt part of the reason (though many content providers have been gathering log-in information for a while), as is the public's worry about cookies and other online activity monitoring. Most of the efforts we have seen so far have been piecemeal—the New York Times' "recommended for you" sidebars, for instance.
This all may be beginning to change. At the recent Paid Content Live event in New York, a start up, Prismatic, demonstrated how, by crawling the social Web and analyzing what registered website users care about, audiences can be served re-worked Web pages custom designed around their interests. The example shown was a New York Times home page highlighting articles on fine dining and books—the look and feel of the Times, crafted specially for you, in native format.
The implications of this level of customization—especially in the mobile realm, where tailored content can be served in tandem with alerts, location-based targeting and social media interfaces—is only just beginning to be appreciated. As people become more comfortable with having their minute-by-minute needs and requests serviced by intuitive devices (thanks, Siri and Google Now!), we can expect more of this new level of information delivery—with all its possibilities for product development, branding and monetization. PE