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Everybody is talking ‘mobile-first’. Tell us in your own words just how dominant mobile is becoming…
It’s become glaringly clear that the battleground for publishers is going to be on the screens of smartphones. Consumers, particularly millennials, check their phones hundreds of times a day. They’re always on, and that means that in the fight for their attention, their eyeballs, and the ability to reach them with content and advertising, this industry that grew up with printed words and images has to transfer the strengths of content creation and audience retention capabilities to the small screen of the phone.
We spoke around 12 months ago about how difficult it was for traditional publishers to shift their culture to digital. Now they have to shift again for mobile, right? How do they find their place?
In leading magazine media companies, it’s clear that digital-first is already here with its emphasis migrating to mobile. The evidence is clear as you look at job descriptions. You see a long list of unfamiliar digital job titles. Entire organisations are being reconfigured around content management platforms that allow them to produce content 24/7 and to format it to all web, digital and mobile platforms as well as to print. The technology drives a process that drives change, and facilitates culture change.
Ok, so how do the traditional publishers add value?
Fashion is one of the best examples. In Fashion, print still has a distinctive edge because of the sensual quality of the photography and the reading experience which consumers still love – because it allows them to look deeply into images which are more permanent. That’s still a big factor. Fashion and beauty don’t adapt well to small screens and rapidly changing situations.
What about adding that value around, for example, breaking news? When the terrible attacks took place in Brussels recently, I followed developments on Twitter via my mobile phone. Where do publishers add value there, for example?
In the case of breaking news, publishers still add a valuable journalistic perspective. It’s still around adding context and depth and authority. So I was on Twitter following the terror attacks in Brussels too. My daily newspaper, New York Times, didn’t have anything on it that morning because it had been printed six hours earlier. But the following day I read reports and analysis about the attacks in the New York Times because it’s an authoritative source that can uniquely pull together the various pieces of that story in terms of what’s relevant, what’s not and what some of the issues are – and I can read about them in depth. I don’t know how common that pattern of media consumption is. I know there’s a large number of people who haven’t grown up with a print tradition and who rely on social media as their primary source of news. And one of the great dangers of this phenomenon is Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness” – that even something that isn’t true but kind of sounds true, to the audience is true. Publishers can help us overcome the obvious dangers inherent in that.
Today you can get the breaking news from original sources. And then the more authoritative sources start to break in and start to shape the story with the help of their editorial expertise. And within an hour, the balance has shifted to reliable sources as opposed to unproven sources.
So, you know, that phrase ‘reliable sources’ is a very good one in terms of thinking about the role that media brands can play in this very fast changing world.
How are advertisers embracing mobile’s rise?
Advertisers are racing to keep up with these changes. The formats for advertisers on the small screen have yet to be proven. They’re constantly changing. People are constantly innovating and finding ways in which to use short-form video and ads that are specially designed to fit into the context of mobile content. The advertising case is being proven in real time.
When you think about distribution over destination, and how mobile allows you to deliver your content direct to your intended audience without hosting it somewhere, do you think mobile will have a detrimental impact on certain platforms?
Yes, I think so. We’re witnessing an evolution in real time and big shifts in terms of the relative importance and role of different platforms. I’ve said in the past that even stone tablets are still used as a form of communication, it’s just that they happen to be in graveyards.
So all of these media platforms will continue to play a role but they will not be the sole source of communication anymore. And I think what’s very important for publishers in that they understand that you can’t look at any of these platforms in isolation. You have to look at the way in which to create a cross-media ecosystem of platforms that support one another and look at the bottom line from the sum of those activities, as opposed to each individual activity. Historically publishers looked down their noses at digital investments because the return on investment has been smaller and taken longer than traditional ROIs. But it is impossible today for print to exist without a strong digital component.
The question is can you be digital only? I think that one of the distinctive advantages of media brands based in print is that they do have a physical component, something that people can touch, look at, hand around. But that is not an advantage across the board. It is of less advantage for newspapers, for example, than it is for fashion magazines.
And finally, what innovations around mobile particularly interest you right now and which brands are doing particularly well in mobile?
I’m looking at Blendle at the moment. It’s a micropayment system started in the Netherlands and in Germany and which has now launched in the US. I think that’s a very interesting experiment which could have a major impact because it puts the consumer in control, not the paywall. I think Facebook News is really taking off in a big way, which can’t be said for Apple News, which has not produced the kind of audiences that were expected. And that’s the other interesting thing – the trend around articlisation and digital disaggregation, where you buy articles as opposed to buying a bundle, as with a newspaper or a magazine. Which will win? On the advertising side, of course, native advertising and branded content have really taken off as a way to generate more value for the advertisers – by adding contextually relevant content that is sponsored by them.
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