10 keys to successful digital transformation – Q&A

Yesterday, Carolyn Morgan presented an InPublishing ‘Top Tips Webinar’, entitled ‘10 keys to successful digital transformation’. In the Q&A session that followed Carolyn’s presentation, we ran out of time before all the questions could be answered. Here, Carolyn provides a follow-up Q&A.

By Carolyn Morgan

Most publishers are either in the midst of a digital transformation or about to contemplate making that leap, so when I ran a webinar for InPublishing, there were lots of questions – here’s some answers, including those we didn’t have time for yesterday.

Digital first

Q: Can you foresee a digital first future any time soon? Is The Independent a (reluctant at first!) trailblazer?

A: I think there is a distinction between digital first and digital only. Every publication will have to become digital first as that is the only way to publish instantly, with print used for the more reflective, analytical pieces. But print is still an important part of the package in many markets. Some B2B publishers, like Ascential (formerly Top Right) have said they will go digital only, but this isn’t the right move for everyone. Consumer specialist may find that print still has an important role, although frequency, format and content may keep changing.

Q: How can very small businesses move to digital first - we are coming against the age old issue of TIME so team members don't have time to learn or implement which means it's taking a very long time…

Q: You've talked about how these things can work for publishers like The Economist and TES but there's a lot of additional activity; can the transition be profitable for specialist publishers?

A: Answering both these questions together: even for a small publisher, it is essential to develop a strong online presence with free content and social platforms to build traffic and thereby an in-house email database, even if you only use it to market print subscriptions. But over time, I would expect that more subscriber content can be moved to digital, more advertiser revenue can be migrated and the balance of print and digital revenue will shift.

In a small team, if your editorial staff feel apprehensive about digital content, consider bringing in one person with more of a digital media background to share their expertise.

Q: We are a B2B publishing company and we would like to understand the risks of digital transformation. What do we have to take into account when developing the strategy?

A: The most important decision to make is where you put content: free web, paid web and paid print. Talk to your audience to find out what they prefer, and get the whole editorial team involved in the debate. Do it step by step – pick a market/ publication as a pilot and test out your digital platform before rolling out to the entire business. This is an opportunity to rethink print as well as digital.

Q: Can you point to any good examples within the trade press/membership magazine market that have successfully handled the transition to digital only?

A: Lloyds List moved to digital only a couple of years ago, and transferred 80% of their print ad revenue to digital. Ascential have signalled their plan to take the likes of Architects Journal, Drapers Record and Retail Week to digital only in the next two years, so worth watching. Most membership magazines are keeping print in the mix as it is a tangible reminder of membership.


Q: We're a B2B magazine who is currently looking to move from a free website to a paywall. What tips would you have to make it a successful move?

Q: How do closed sites perform in the new age of publishing? Are they dinosaurs?

A: Taking these two questions together, and assuming ‘closed’ means ‘hard paywall’ – the most important point is that you can’t charge for something that used to be free. Work out what content your business readers value – it may be research, data, analysis, new leads or forecasts, and put that behind the paywall. Leave the news and lighter content free, outside the paywall, and trail the valuable content available for subscribers. If your magazine is paid-for, then subscribers can get access to the premium digital content as part of the package. Given the importance of search and social for attracting new prospects, having a 100% paywalled site means there is no way to sample content – so you need a free layer of content to showcase the quality and tempt potential subscribers.

Q: Could you give some tips for someone who is working in a newsroom that is beginning to shift content online and is kind of reluctant to trust young people.

A: See if you can persuade them to let you create digital content for the younger segment of their audience – as an experiment – and then if you can prove that it drives engagement, you can build your credibility. Look at digital publishers like Vox or AJ Plus for inspiration.

Q: Which types of digital content create the greatest audience engagement? Split by B2B/B2C.

A: In consumer markets, video, quizzes and lists are most likely to be shared; competitions will drive responses.

In B2B markets, data, charts, research, analysis, forecasts are most shareable. People will register for white papers or webinars and will participate in research or surveys if they think they will get useful information and insights.

Social media

Q: What up and coming social media platforms/apps for sharing content do you expect will grow in influence? Which should I look to join early?

Q: Do you think social media can be just as important for B2B publishing as it is for consumer?

Q: Is Snapchat relevant for our business publications? If so, how can we use it?

A: The Economist are active on: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, You Tube, Google +, Line and Tumblr (but not Snapchat). They keep evaluating which drives traffic. In your market, monitor what your audience are using and then experiment, adding one new platform at a time.

Q: What role do platforms like Taboola and Outbrain have in marketing strategies for publishers?

A: It depends very much on your market – in B2B or specialist markets, it’s probably much harder to reach the right people – you are after quality, not volume.


Q: What are the "key performance indicators" you'd suggest using to monitor success online?

A: Focus on engagement measures – time spent reading, number of articles viewed, shares, comments, responses, votes, number of email sign-ups, clicks on email newsletter links. Especially in specialist markets, this is more important than sheer volume of traffic.

Q: What analytics do you think are most useful / trusted?

A: If you have registered users, and can track how often they visit and where they go, you have so much more insight into their behaviour than simple analytics stats.


Q: Are Apps dead?

Q: If so why are Silicon Valley companies like Issuu and Yuuo innovating in magazine apps & diversifying their customer base to embrace new publishers?

A: As people rely more on their smartphones, screens get bigger and 4G is more reliable, the need for offline access to information declines. Apps that provide a useful service have a place, but I’m not so convinced of the future for magazine replica apps on smartphone. Maybe on tablet there is a role for the magazine style layout available say on a plane or train where there is no internet. But more and more publishers are creating mobile-friendly layouts for their online content for quick browsing while commuting or waiting. So I wouldn’t make a big bet on magazine apps.


Q: Is there a danger of poorly badged sponsored content damaging editorial integrity. If viewers see vast amounts of sponsored content, will they turn off?

A: Sponsored content has to be relevant, useful or interesting, and created by a team that know your audience. A sponsor has to see value simply in the association with good content, not want to overtly promote their products or services. And publishers need to monitor how audiences view the content.

Q: What are the best analytics tools for detecting rates and instances of ad-blocking?

A: I’m not an expert in this field, but in some cases you can track this with Google Analytics (google “adblock with google analytics”).

The recording of the webinar is available here.