Why Digital Transformation Is Easier for Some Media Companies
Digital transformation in media isn’t new. It’s been happening for over 20 years now and the landscape is still evolving and changing even today. Change like this hasn’t been easy for individuals, companies, or the media industry. But while it’s been a challenge, some companies have navigated this digital transformation more easily than others.
For book publishers, digital transformation hasn’t been quite as difficult. I’m not saying that it’s been a walk in the park, but at least their core unit of content has remained the same. You can break up books into individual chapters, but excepting some textbooks, they can’t stand on their own. You need the entire book to make a complete arch of content.
To be sure, book publishers face challenges with new digital formats, distribution models and ways of marketing. But at least the type of content they create and distribute … a book … is still basically the same as it always has been. As organizations, book publishers still fundamentally operate the way they always have.
For magazine and newspaper publishers, however, digital has changed the very fabric of how they create, deliver and monetize content. If you think about it, an actual magazine or newspaper issue is completely artificial. It was designed to facilitate efficient delivery of content in a world before digital.
But in the digital world, a single article or news story can stand on its own without the need for other content around it. And reader behavior validates this. People search for, share, comment and interact with individual articles, not entire issues.
It’s this fundamental change that has made digital transformation so much harder for magazines and newspapers. Even today, I see many B2B and consumer publishers who can’t break free from the tyranny of the “issue.” They still think primarily in terms of creating, delivering and monetizing chunks of content.
But media companies thriving in today’s digital environment look at content differently. They view it as a continual stream of content that they deliver immediately to their readers on their website or app. That stream isn’t made up of articles alone, but also video, podcasts, and images. They “market” each story immediately to their followers on social media, email and through distributed content platforms like Facebook or Apple News.
What are the keys to making digital transformation easier for your company? It requires a fundamental change in thinking about how content is formed and distributed. Following are 4 ways magazine leaders can break out of print-centric thinking and embrace the content stream:
- Develop and deliver content the way your readers want it. If you were a reader of your brand, how would you want to get your content? Make it easy for them to get your content without having to wait for an issue. Remember, over half of web traffic and email engagement now comes from mobile devices, so deliver content in the formats that work best for these platforms. That may mean adopting a responsive design or delivering content more suitable to mobile screens, like video.
- Own your audience. I still see B2B, consumer, and regional publishers who rely primarily upon newsstand, retail or other mass distribution models, but those models are in decline. According to MagNet, newsstand sales dropped 12.3% last year. If you want to be successful, you must commit to creating direct, content-based relationships with your end readers. Build that email list and nurture readers toward a paid subscription. Successful media companies invest in robust audience databases and analytics tools that track reader behavior and provide insights to increase engagement.
- Develop your audience. Recognize that the #1 job of your website, social media, and your own PPC advertising is not content delivery or monetization, but audience development. I wrote an entire blog about this back in November. Every interaction you have with readers should move them further down the audience acquisition funnel.
- Market your content stream. Commit to the idea of the content stream. Publish new content immediately to your website and app and then market that new content immediately through email, social media, distributed content, and even PPC advertising. Publishers need to be able to meet readers where they are and guide them back to their website.
By the way, I’m still a fan of print in the right markets. So many media companies have abandoned print that, if done properly, print can be a competitive differentiator.
But publishers that are successfully making the transition look at print as just another content distribution platform. These publishers curate the best content from their digital content stream, package it, and deliver it to people who want to consume content through a physical medium.
There’s one final key that I’ve seen with media companies who successfully navigate digital transformation. . . they’re not satisfied with the status quo. This drive must come from the top-down within a company. There must be a desire within the corporate culture to find new and better ways to serve their readers and advertisers and give them what they really want.
“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard
This was written in the 1950s … well before the Internet even existed. Transformation will continue in the publishing industry, but those companies that can shake off the bonds of “how we’ve always done it” will continue to learn, innovate and be successful in the future.
Related story: Why Talk of Transformation Is Often Short on Action
Eric Shanfelt is the founding partner of Nearview Media, a consulting firm that helps publishers with their digital revenue, audience and platform development. Eric is a 25-year digital media veteran and has been the Chief Digital Officer for several large publishing companies. You can reach Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.