After covering the management of creative teams, podcasts, sustainability and storytelling, the curtain came on this year’s FIPP and VDZ Digital Innovators’ Summit with a look at the new technologies and inventive business practices publishers need to know about.
Joining FIPP CEO James Hewes to discuss everything from engagement and shopping tools to a publisher in Arkansas giving away free Ipads to subscribers, were Rebekah Billingsley of Cedar Communications, Steve Chapman of PressReader and John Wilpers, senior director USA at Innovation Media Consulting.
Looking at how technology should be integrated by publishers, Wilpers, co-author of FIPP’s annual Innovation in Media World Report, stressed the importance of keeping those who are actually using the tech in mind.
“For any company who’s thinking about putting in new tech, the first thing to do is bring in staff and middle management, ask them about the problems and needs, do a survey and involve the staff in tests,” he said.
“And, most importantly, make sure the people that are going to use it are the people who are testing it. It happens so many times that tech is foisted on some poor person who didn’t have any hand in choosing it. The success of tech is in human relations.”
The famous five
Rounding up five exciting new technologies, Billingsley, who is the Global Innovation Director at Cedar, chose video platform Wirewax as a way to improve interactivity; content technology platform Ex.Co for better engagement; image-recognition platform Phuzion Media for seamless shopping; language comparison platform Relative Insight for neuro-linguistic research; and Stackla, which helps marketers discover, manage, publish and optimise the best visuals.
“The reason why I chose these are because they are a very quick way to implement some digital transformation into your company,” she said. “Everybody thinks digital transformation is very expensive and means you have to go right into your server rooms and start dealing with your infrastructure, and it’s just not true. All of these platforms are really quick, some of them is very inexpensive and they will really up your game in terms of innovation technology for your consumers.”
To help improve video engagement, Wirewax is an interactive layer that sits on top of your edits and allows you to add hotspots to your video. Static hotspots don’t move to allow simple interaction points, while sticky hotspots stick to people, objects or products as they move – something that has 10 times higher interaction rates.
“We are seeing 100 per cent increase in our dwell times,” explained Billingsley. ”And it’s really simple – magazine designers can create interactive videos on this platform. You can retrofit the videos you made over the last 12 months to be interactive or shoppable.”
To further improve user interaction, the EX.CO platform enables partners to create content that generates leads and provides meaningful insights about their audience for targeting and segmentation.
“They have 15 or 20 different types of interactivity – polls, flick cards, quizzes, the cool functionality that could be costing you £20,000 to build from scratch with your own development team,” said Billingsley. “It’s a piece of code you drop onto your website so you don’t have to build anything. And they are ahead of the game and continually adding new bits of functionality.
“For us it’s that interactivity first and foremost. We are getting 7 per cent click through to our call to action and when you compare to what you get with banner ads, it’s really high”.
The next evolution on from QR codes, image-recognition platform Phuzion Media makes products and services within print pages or on a video screen instantly shoppable by allowing readers to photograph a product using a mobile device and be directed to the product page.
“As a part of Covid-19 QR codes have been taking off but they are ugly and we don’t want them all over our magazine pages. And you would need one QR code for everything you want to show,” said Billingsley.
“Because this is image recognition we can show 20 products on the page and each snap takes you off to a different shoppable page. And you can fit it retrospectively. It’s a really exciting way to bring print and digital together.”
Efforts to build media products for the Gen Z and Generation A audience is boosted considerably by language comparison platform Relative Insight. Born out of technology that was initially used to help identify adults posing as children on children community boards, it uses semantic language patterns and words to scan comments across any platform and find trends and themes.
“They will very quickly find out our how people are talking about you and how they are talking about your competitors and they can do that via demographics,” said Billingsley. “We can really start to understand how Gen Z speaks very differently to Gen A, who speak very differently to Gen X. It allows you as a brand or a media organisation to make sure you are on point and targeting your market appropriately.”
The final platform on Billingsley’s list, Stackla, allows you to discover, manage, display and optimise authentic user-generated content (UGC) alongside branded assets to create personalised customer experiences at every touchpoint.
“It turns your fairly grotty UGC into really beautiful creative because it uses lots of image recognition to find the best UGC so you are not stuck with terrible images,” Billingsley said. “It’s about finding, promoting and rewarding the very best in UGC.
“It does everything you need it to do as a publisher – it creates this amazing digital asset managing system, it’s highly tagged, it’s rating the images that are getting the most interactions and it’s allowing you to understand the things that make your audience engage.”
Reading the press
As the Vice President of Content Partnerships at PressReader, the global newsstand that distributes content to hard-to-reach places and do digital additions for leading publications around the world, Steve Chapman has been keeping his finger on the pulse of the media industry. And, as is the case with all other sectors, he has seen Covid-19 acting as a driving force.
“Covid, not unexpectedly, has accelerated everything that publishers are doing digitally and it’s been a lot about creating a direct relationship with individual users,” he said. “Looking at the technology they are using to deliver that has been something many publishers have been reviewing and we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of partners that we are working with.”
One such partner is the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, a regional newspaper that has come up with an innovative approach to distribution. The publication was looking for a better way to engage their audiences and combine them into one group – taking dedicated print users and helping them see the value of the digital edition and at the same time bring in a younger audience who are interested in up-to-the-minute news.
“The publisher went into the market and said we are going to give you an iPad with every subscription we have,” explained Chapman. “They literally went county by county to try and convert their print subscribers to digital and if you continued to pay your $34 subscription a month they would give you an iPad to use. This was not your iPad to keep, you had to be a subscriber to maintain that.
“The results were staggering – they were able to covert 80 per cent of their print subscribers to a digital edition with an iPad subscription. They won multiple awards for this. It’s a great example of a publisher looking at this and saying – we have to shrink our print costs and we are going to go head on and invest in technology for our readers. They spent more than $14 million on iPads in order to make this work. They are seen as one of the most innovative newspaper publishers in the US right now.”
Launching during a pandemic
The success of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette prompted other publishers to launch digital editions of newspapers. PressReader helped The Denver Gazette create a “daily, digital, interactive newspaper” from the ground up.
“It is designed, edited and sectioned like a newspaper even though it is 100 per cent a digital,” said Chapman. “The key thing here is that it helped create something people can relate to. The audience this was targeting was one who had grown up with newspapers but wasn’t going to purchase a subscription to a new print product. It allowed them to target an audience they were really going after and they far exceeded their initial subscription numbers.”
In Tenessee, hyper local-focused publisher Main Street Media of Tennessee, who does community newspapers, decided to bring out five-day-a-week newspaper Main Street Nashville, following the same format.
“More and more we are seeing publishers look at this, especially in parts of the US where there is a significant gap in everything that is needed from a newspaper standpoint,” said Chapman.
Joining the physical and digital worlds
Moving to the Mexican market, PressReader partnered with the country’s largest gift card network to produce physical giftcards for digital goods.
“We started to develop these cards that provide a combination of Mexican content with a international flair in a 30 day subscription which you can purchase at a local store and redeem through our platform,” Chapman explained.
“Mexico is a place where print has not been largely available at retail especially at a convenience store. So for the first time we are giving them a physical presence at retail, putting magazine like Forbes and GQ on the face of these cards, helping to reinforce their brand at a time when that presence at retail is shrinking.”
PressReader is also taking a fresh approach to help publishers access online kiosks, partnering with Kiosko Mas to combine hundreds of titles in one app.
“What we are seeing here that it brings together almost all the key publishers and small publishers across Spain and it’s the cross bundling opportunity that this creates for them,” said Chapman. “They are looking at what that user journey is and what their acquisition strategy is from a user standpoint and saying – hey how can you bundle content that’s relevant to these users together.”
PressReader is working with Peru Quiosco – a publisher which owns 80 per cent of the media space in Peru – to put all their titles together in a state-of-art kiosk. “They really want to capitalise on the sales and demographics on one particular publication to drive others,” said Chapman. “They are bringing together professional and personal passions and you can have access to any combination of content you are looking for.”
Another partner, Banca Digital, created a kiosk that they bundled with a local Telco so that with your sim card and rate plan you get access to a wide selection of art, hobby and niche publications from publisher EdiCase Publicações.
“For the publisher this is about bringing the niche content front and centre but doing it in an unique way,” said Chapman. “The content in this bundle is being paid for by the Telco so the user initially has not cost associated with this.”
Media for the next decade
Looking towards the future, Billingsley warned against the dangers of “synthetic media”.
“It’s a real problem and the next thing that could come and hit the publishing industry hard,” she said. “The publishing industry has to come together. We have destroyed ourselves as an industry by trying to compete with other titles on the newsstand.
“Owning the customer and the data has always been a problem for us. We have spent so many years making ourselves visible to Google and advertising Apple and Googles branding by saying ‘download the app, it’s free’. And what we are about to see is that with their first party data set-up and capability, all that ad revenue we used to get is going to go straight into their pocket.
“We have to look at how we watermark and protect our IP and how we charge for it and how we work together as an industry.”
According to Chapman the future of platforms and media will be all about having a more curated and personal experience for the user. “It’s about crossing borders more than you have before,” he said. “Through the pandemic we have seen people are accessing more content than ever before.
“It’s going to be about serving that content in really meaningful ways, whether that’s through a kiosk or combination platform aggregated together or whether it’s publishers working together. We can’t exist just as an individual product, we have to look at why my product is relevant and what is all the relevant content that comes with it.”