Archive for the ‘ Publishing Strategies ’ Category

Frictionless sharing – is it right for publishers?

Frictionless sharing. Have you heard these social media buzz words yet? They are becoming quite the discussion point in the publishing world.  So what does it mean?  Facebook launched frictionless sharing a couple of months ago as a way for users to share content with their friends automatically.  Anytime you read news from a social news app or listen to music from a social music app, it will automatically be shared to your Facebook page in the right-side rail and in certain promotional boxes in your timeline.  You can still manually share and Like content, in which case, it will be displayed at the top of your timeline.

Who’s in?

Several publishers are already implementing frictionless sharing. Washington Post and Yahoo both built social apps but they took different approaches.  WaPo created a news app that resides within Facebook and allows an entire body of work to move from user to user, while Yahoo is allowing links to be shared directly from its own Website.  WaPo doesn’t currently monetize the shared articles, while Yahoo protects its digital display ads by sending traffic back to its site.  We have had conversations with both companies and I can appreciate both approaches. On the one hand, WaPo is seeking a new audience and will figure out monetization later. On the other hand, Yahoo wants the audience but not without advertising to pay for it.

What’s in it for Facebook users?

For Facebook users, frictionless sharing allows for greater discovery. Facebook users can now easily see what their friends are reading or listening to.  The potential downside is that your friends will get tired of your abundance of automatic shares.  If so, users can turn off the frictionless sharing feature and just stick to sharing content on a manual basis.  Most likely, users will end up using a combination of automatic and manual sharing.

What’s in it for content producers?

A content producer can gain exposure and potentially reach a new audience.  WaPo tells me that the majority of its Facebook social readers app users are younger – which has cultivated a new audience for its brand and has resulted in millions of page views.  WaPo knows that monetization is a necessary factor, but right now it’s simply basking in the fact that a younger demographic has exposure to the brand.  Also notable – it hasn’t resulted in a negative impact on its current subscriber base.

Yahoo is also benefiting from Facebook’s frictionless sharing, but in this case the end user links back to the Yahoo website which drives up page views and thereby generates more ad impressions.  I completely understand why Yahoo is happy with this model, but at the same time WaPo is learning a lot about an audience it doesn’t typically serve.  Who’s to say that both brands aren’t correct in their pursuits?

A recent article from an exec at Next Issue Media sums up the opportunities that come from frictionless sharing, which I tend to agree with:

“Some have grumbled that ‘frictionless sharing’ is less ideal. First of all, the sender of an article might not want to automatically share that he’s reading about Snookie’s latest shenanigans and his friends might not want to know. For publishers developing news apps, they must make it transparent and easy for users to either enable or disable the ‘frictionless sharing’ function.

Second of all and perhaps even more troubling, when friends click to read one of your shares, they are forced to authenticate with the news app (and thus give up personal information) to read the article. This setup creates friction and as a result, less people will end up engaging with news apps. Publishers and Facebook jointly need to work on solutions to allow for true frictionless sharing.

With that said, the opportunity seems to outweigh the limitations. In a world of many enemies eating away at your business, Facebook seems to be on publishers’ side.”

When you weigh the risks of participating in Facebook’s social app world against the upside of obtaining a new audience, my advice is to start experimenting and above all figure out first hand what frictionless sharing means and what it can bring to your brand.

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News Readers and Aggregators: Friend or Foe of Traditional Media?

The tablet market has seen several news readers and aggregator apps emerge that elegantly package news, social media and other content from multiple sources into one compelling and personalized reading experience. Apps, such as Flipboard, Zite and the new Livestand by Yahoo!, seem to have found a place in tablet users’ critical hearts. As such, Livestand is currently the number two free app in iTunes.

What part will traditional publishers play in this space? Are these newcomers posing a competitive threat, or do they give us an opportunity?

News readers provide a powerful new way to consume information. This blog excerpt from globalmoxie.com explains some of the benefits:

“Publishers and designers have to start thinking about content at a more atomic level, not in aggregated issues. That’s how we already understand news as consumers, and we have to start thinking that way as publishers, too. This is why Flipboard, Instapaper, and other aggregators are so interesting: they give you one container for the whole universe of content, unbound to any one publisher.”

It doesn’t seem likely that consumers will pay for these products. Instead, since the news readers rely on third party content, their key to success long term has to be in partnering with content providers. In other words, they need us. But do we need them?

Advertising

At present, it doesn’t appear that news readers drive much referral traffic back to publishers. Over time, this could change, but for now, the only way publishers will benefit is to get ads displayed within their content. You are starting to see some examples of ad placement inside content from content partners. In the example below, The Oprah Magazine is advertising for themselves within Flipboard.

Discovery

The real payoff in partnering with news readers is the potential for premium placement. Yes, you are giving users free access to your content, but you also get maximum exposure of your brand. New audiences will discover you and become familiar with your content. Flipboard, for example has 37 selections, which include brands such as TechCrunch, GigaOm and Wired under Tech & Science. It is publishers job to deliver compelling enough content, such that users eventually will be enticed to visit the original source.

DIY

Instead of partnering with these newcomers, why can’t newspapers or magazines just do something similar to Flipboard themselves? Washington Post did with the launch of Trove earlier this year. What about publishers at the local level? The reality is we could, but instead we spend most of our time pursuing legacy revenue streams from legacy websites.

Partnership opportunities

So, friend or foe? They are both. Foe, in the sense they use our content to “steal” audiences. Friend, in the sense they introduce new audiences to our content. I believe publishers need to work with companies like Flipboard more because of discovery rather than a direct revenue source – at least today.

Many news readers are already reaching out to publishers.

  • Yahoo LiveStand has already included publisher partners from their newspaper consortium.
  • Google Propeller will also have partners in place at launch.
  • Pulse just introduced Pulse Connect, which lets publishers submit their site for inclusion in Pulse. After approval, it is then available to users of the newsreader as a content source.
  • Zite has an integrated partner program that enables content to be provided to appropriately targeted audiences, such as people in your publishing area or people who are interested in content from your area.  Zite claims to use proprietary algorithms to deliver users content that matches their unique tastes and interests and is personalized to the type of content they like to read.
  • Flipboard offers a product called Flipboard Pages, which already includes some larger publishers such as Conde Nast, ABC, SF Gate and the Washington Post. It will soon be expanded to interested publishers, who then become visible inside Flipboard. Users can create a section of Flipboard of just your content.

The jury is out how publishers will make money from news readers, but they cannot be ignored as potential partners.

What do you think? Is partnering with newsreaders a good move, or do you think it would diminish the value of our brand?

For more reading, check out this great article from Nieman Labs, which analyzes the battle between aggregators and single-brand apps.  There is a particular comment I am in agreement with from the article.

“We’ll each pick a single news aggregator to complement our top two to three top single brand choices. Those will be the buttons, the apps, on the first page of our iPads — and the second page won’t matter much”.

Also, check out this blog post from cenevoldsen.com, which talks about why aggregators are so compelling from a design standpoint in the first place.

HTML5 or Native App: What works best on mobile and tablet devices?

The mobile market has grown rapidly over the past couple of years and with the addition of tablets we will continue to see double-digit growth for quite some time, as reported by eMarketer in a recent report.

With all this growth comes a tremendous challenge. Which mobile platforms should a business pursue to optimize growth of audience and revenue, while keeping in mind associated development costs? Should you develop mobile optimized websites, native apps or most recently web apps?

Along with the mobile evolution comes HTML5.  This evolving web technology is a cornerstone of the growing Web App development effort.  Many publishers like HTML5 because it costs less than developing a native app for each mobile platform/Operating System (i.e., iOS, Android, Blackberry, etc.).  With HTML5 web apps, essentially, you build your app once and it will work across all mobile devices.

So, what is HTML5?

It is important to have a layman’s understanding of what HTML5 is  in order to assess the most optimal utilization.

Wikipedia describes it

“A language for structuring and presenting content for the World Wide Web, a core technology of the internet and as of August 2011 is still under development.”

The promise of HTML5 is cross platform development.  It is designed to deliver as close a native app experience as possible but deliver it via the open mobile web.  Since it is the web it does not matter what platform you are using. It can be accessed by any device without going through a proprietary app store front operated by a manufacturer or any other third party.  Just for clarity sake, a native app is an application specifically designed to run on a proprietary platform, taking advantage of its native platform functionality. Without the need to be connected to the Internet.  There is much more to it than that but I did say layman’s discussion.

At present, HTML5 has several strong attributes but it doesn’t offer the same functionality – and doesn’t work as seamlessly – as a native app.  For example HTML5 doesn’t allow deeper integration of the device accelerometer, camera, video and GPS capabilities.  Shown below is a table I borrowed from Worklight. It identifies specific features and shows no single approach is capable of delivering all of the benefits all of the time. Choosing the right approach depends on the specific needs of the organization and can be driven by parameters such as budget, timeframe, internal resources, target market, required application functionality, IT infrastructure and many others. Most companies today face an obvious tradeoff between user experience and application functionality on one hand, and development costs and time to market on the other.

It may sound like HTML5 is long on promise but short on actual results, while a native app delivers a better consumer experience but is more costly and takes longer to develop.

The Hybrid Approach

I believe the best way to pursue a mobile strategy in today’s environment is a hybrid approach.  A hybrid approach takes advantage of the best of both HTML5 and native app technologies to deliver apps with the optimum blend of user experience and cost/time to market.  HTML5 based web apps have exciting possibilities and it’s critical for an organization to developing expertise in this new and fast evolving technology.  But because of its current limitations it is too much of a risk to fully embrace.  The consumer experience may suffer and as fast as the market is moving you could cause harm to your business by not looking savvy to your audience and/or advertisers.

So what is a hybrid app model?  It is merging native app capabilities and functionality with an embedded browser inside the app that runs some of the user interface.  This is all transparent to the user.  You can be assured they don’t care how we get it done, they just want a great user experience.  A benefit of a hybrid app is maximum audience reach.  A hybrid app will be accessible via web search, as well as through app store distribution.

Shown below is a graphic that shows the correlation between a great user experience and the cost and time it takes to create an app.

                                                    Credit Worklight

The hybrid approach allows an organization to develop apps that employ native capabilities and functionality and leverage existing resources to minimize development cost development cycle time. So instead of rewriting code for each proprietary platform which is time consuming and costly, you can write some of the app in HTML or JavaScript (web technology jargon), and re-use it across all platforms.  This type of development opens a whole host of opportunities for the app.  You can now have an app load pages from a web site or even have some or the entire user interface in HTML 5.  Since this is a hybrid app it is still native and needs to be downloaded.  The portions of the app requiring an embedded browser will act and feel like a native app but the user will need internet access to make it all work seamlessly.

From a strategic standpoint I am an advocate of the hybrid approach.  It is not suitable for all app development needs but it does provide a cost effective solution for a wide range of apps.

Here is an article on Web vs Native App development you might find interesting reading.

http://www.informationweek.com/news/development/web/231500197

Can Traditional Media Companies Ever Become Non-Traditional?

How many times have you heard about traditional media companies having their lunch eaten by digital start up companies?  How can this be? Shouldn’t “traditional” companies be well positioned with an established business and loyal customers?

The primary reason is they focus too much on tradition and business models of the past.  Start ups look to fill in gaps that traditional companies leave exposed because they are usually not core pursuits.  Once the start up steals business the traditional business tends to think of the lost business as a small subset of the overall business.  The vicious cycle begins and the business begins to erode first by incremental losses and ultimately leading to significant losses.

So how does a traditional media company become non-traditional?  My hope is to discuss the many aspects of this effort over the course of several blog posts.  This particular post will be discussing an acquisition strategy versus a transition strategy.

Acquisition strategy versus transition strategy

From the late 90’s up to today most of the strategies related to digital content have been around re-creating experiences of core print products online.  Even with the advent of smart phones, much of the same information in print still act as the base for efforts online and in mobile.  Many of the new iPad products coming out of newspaper and magazine businesses are closer to replica editions of the print product than they are truly innovative.

Here’s what Damon Kiesow from Poynter Institute had to say:

So far those opportunities have gone largely unexploited as media companies try to figure out exactly what tablets are good for. As I noted last month, most of the U.S. newspaper apps to launch recently on the iPad are replica editions — basically PDFs of the printed product. While there may be a small audience for these replicas, this is a transitional model at best and will do nothing to build new audiences on tablets.

Likewise, many interactive newspaper apps are a lot like print products — but not necessarily in a good way. Apps from USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are well designed, but they still offer the same type of content as in print, with a similar look and feel.

The Augusta Chronicle ipad app from Morris Communications is an example of a replica edition.

With the ever declining subscription base of business and the disdain for newspaper and magazine print products by our youth, focusing on transition is a one way street with an uncertain ending.  I believe traditional media businesses need to use digital strategies as a way of acquiring a new rather than transitioning old audiences.  I’m not saying that transition isn’t important, but it does not address the need for new audience.

The pursuit of a younger audience

With the launch of the iPad, a major opportunity has presented itself in terms of gaining new audience .  The primary age group purchasing iPads is 35-45.  The second largest group is 25-34.  Both of these age demographics are not large users of print products especially newspapers.  Building a content experience around the iPad and a younger audience is exactly the pursuit required in traditional media.  If successful, it rationalizes building products based on an audience and not around a one size fits all strategy.

Elements of an audience acquisition strategy

So what does it mean to pursue audience acquistion strategy?  Without getting into every detail, there are two key areas to pay attention to.

Content:

The most important item is content.  Our research has shown that the younger demographic likes much of the same information as an older demographic but the level of importance is different.  Subjects like things to do, celebrities and photos are much more important than local politics.  Traditional topics such as commentary, classified ads and obituaries don’t even have a place in the product.

Once you have the content in place for the audience you seek you now need to make sure it is written with some text but in many cases a photo library or video will do more to tell the story than printed words.  It should also be noted that in many cases the type of content required may not be readily accessible from your own content centers.  You have to be willing to license content from other sources if you really want to build content specific to an audience.

Technology:

Another area that is critical but sometimes overlooked is the experience the audience has with the technology.  If we are talking about iPad, the expectation is for a robust experience inclusive of video, audio, photos, text and interaction with content.  A pdf just doesn’t cut it.

As mentioned these are just a few high level considerations, but just thinking through the impact to a traditional media company is complex.

In the end, the most important aspect of any strategy is business growth.  Growth has to include increasing audiences.  In these early days of the tablet, moving people from print to online and tablets is important but not as critical as grabbing new audiences. We have a clear opportunity to be the first mover before the well funded startups get going.

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