Unitb’s Alexander Babing on the future of ecommerce and modern CMS’s

Unitb is a Berlin-based digital agency that has been working with media companies for over a decade. The company has evolved its offerings as the years have gone past and now boasts a portfolio of products that includes the creation of paywalls and subscription systems through to the modernisation of content management systems and much else besides.

Here Alexander Babing, Director New Business, unitb, explains a little about the company’s DNA and how it has worked with media companies in the past. He offers some insightful views on how both content management systems and media monetisation strategies are likely to develop in the coming years.

So tell us a little about the history of unitb? What were the key challenges you are trying to solve?

Founded in 2002, unitb is a leading consulting and realisation partner for complex web and digital projects. As a digital agency, we work for well-known clients (e.g. Axel Springer, Burda, Focus, Funke, HDI, Ringier, ZDF), but also for fascinating start-ups. We consult, conceptualise, and implement complex projects on the Internet and Intranet.

The challenge in the first step of our projects is often to reduce the complexity to such an extent that an undertaking can be managed with a controllable technology. This can be in the field of content monetisation, for example, when our client has the desire to make money with their high-quality content – but it is not yet clear how this could be achieved.

We provide advice here, independent of manufacturers, and always clearly focused on the customer’s well-being.

In the second step, our agile teams then develop the appropriate digital solution. This ranges from the implementation of a complete CMS including front-end to targeted measures, e.g. the creation of a paywall, the drastic acceleration of page delivery or the improvement of the on-site search or the op.

You have been working with publishers for over a decade now  – how has that work changed?

Our work with publishers has changed to the extent that many publishers have now also set up digital teams in their houses and we often provide very focused support in special cases.

As a result, we often talk to people who have a profound understanding of the technical issues. We often act as sparring partners there because we see and learn a lot through the various projects. We are incredibly happy to pass on this knowledge.

And what is your main work with publishers now?

Amazingly, this work is currently very diverse. I would like to illustrate this with three examples:

We are currently developing a platform for a large German publishing house that will allow them to monetise their existing reach with an ecommerce business model. In order to make the project a success in the shortest possible time, we at untib are conceptualising, designing, and developing this new platform and will subsequently operate it.

We are providing extensive support to a traditional publishing house specialising in business and financial news by rebuilding the entire website from scratch, introducing a paywall and establishing digital working methods in the editorial department.

For Blick of Ringier (blick.ch) we developed a completely decoupled front end based on React and migrated the system to AWS (Amazon Web Services) in the cloud. The requirement was to achieve the fastest possible delivery speed, and we achieved this. Now we’re permanently supporting the digital team there in the further development of the platform and assisted with the introduction of Blick TV, for example.

How Blick delivers stories at an unrivalled pace

See the #FIPPCongress session with Alexander Babing and Marcus Dauck, Head Publishing Technologies and Services, Ringier AG.

How do you think the CMS will evolve in the future?

The CMS as a place where as many functions as possible are combined is clearly a relic from the past for me. In the future, it will be important to combine specialised systems (which are offered as Software as a Service, SaaS, in the cloud) with each other and to develop (or have developed) very specific, differentiating solutions yourself.

Systems such as Contentful, for example, can be used to gather, combine, and make available pure content. But of course, it is also important that there is acceptance in the editorial department to leave well-worn paths and to face new work processes.

Especially in fields where the direct competition is not so great (e.g. between regional publishers), it will be important to forge clever alliances in order to be able to share the development costs.

What are the key trends you are seeing in ecommerce?

I see two strong trends in ecommerce; one is to make it much, much easier to carry out a transaction and place a purchase. This will go through simpler ways of user identification and will be pushed by ApplePay, and others. Here, merchants could still try to find a raison d’être in the chain between manufacturer and customer, as some manufacturers do not start here.

The other development (which, regrettably, is still lagging behind) is the combination of stationary trade and ecommerce. My hypothesis is that many people want to experience particularly complex and sensual products on-site and (most importantly!) take them directly with them. They are helped if they can easily recognise availabilities and even see which shops in their vicinity offer the relevant product.

Here are still opportunities for small and medium-sized retailers in particular, but they often do not recognise or use them and are thus forcibly doomed.

And has Covid-19 increased the demand for ecommerce?

We see strong demand for support in monetising the content. This now often goes well beyond a mere paywall, as openness to “holistic” approaches has increased. You cannot simply replace a classic print subscription model with a digital subscription. Rather, it is more interesting to integrate the reader more deeply into the product and to bind him or her to it as firmly as possible. You have to offer them something! And this is exactly where we support our customers.

Where do you see unitb going in the future?

We will always reinvent ourselves. However, as long as we continue to pursue our mission: to bring our customers the greatest possible benefit with the simplest possible solution, we will be able to further expand our strong position.

And all in all, for me it is about helping to find clever answers to the changes in media consumption. From my point of view, it is essential that news, commentaries, but also stories are told in a contemporary way so that there is a place for a younger one in particular next to Netflix, TikTok and co.


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