This special feature on content production and user experience has five sections:
In this section:
“A good UX is crucial for a publisher producing both print and digital media because it directly impacts engagement and satisfaction. A positive experience ensures readers discover content easily, navigate smoothly, and have a seamless interaction across platforms. A negative experience alienates readers and deters re-engagement. A good experience should enable enhanced accessibility, readability and usability, making content easy to consume and share. This drives loyalty, increases retention and conversions while contributing to higher readership and revenue,” says Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule.
For Matt Poole, chief product officer, Immediate Media, “UX is the ultimate determinant of user satisfaction and whether they enjoy using your product and will return in the future, shaping the long-term opportunities and success of your brand / business.”
Blake Pollard, co-founder and CRO, eMagazines, agrees: “A strong customer journey and user experience is everything. Consumers will not buy or engage with magazine media that is not laser focused on strong UX – across print, digital editions, native apps and websites.”
Engagement and retention
“In a time when every consumer pound is becoming increasingly hard to acquire, customer engagement which translates into recurring revenue is ever more important. Optimising user experience is paramount if we are to convert an occasional newstrade purchase into subscription revenue,” says Mark Constance, group head of production, Future.
And publishers have a short window of opportunity says Dani Leyhue, product manager, WoodWing: “Whether the reader experiences content on a printed page, mobile platform or computer browser, publishers only have a few seconds to capture interest. If the user cannot seamlessly navigate your content, they will be easily scared off.”
Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex adds, “well-designed layouts, intuitive navigation, and clear presentation of information can enhance user engagement, keeping them interested in the content,” and says Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow, “satisfied customers are repeat customers, refer others, and leave positive reviews.”
According to Canvasflow’s Andy Brown, “a well-designed and user-friendly interface encourages users to engage with a brand. Increased engagement leads to higher conversion rates, improved retention, and increased overall user activity.”
“If we have a good understanding of what we want our audiences to achieve,” adds Richard Hamshere, group production director, Mark Allen Group, “wherever they are interacting with us, then it’s UX that will deliver those outcomes for our business. That’s how important it is.”
Conversion rates will be optimised, says Atex’s Cesare Navarotto, through “well-designed content channels with intuitive calls-to-action and streamlined conversion processes which drive desired user actions, ultimately increasing conversion rates and achieving business objectives.”
“UX focuses on creating interfaces that are intuitive, efficient, and easy to use. Well-designed UX reduces friction and enables users to accomplish tasks more quickly and effectively,” says Andy Brown.
Cesare Navarotto agrees: “UX design helps in organising and structuring content in a way that makes it easy to find and consume.”
“UX design,” continues Navarotto, “focuses on making content easy to use and accessible to a wide range of users and on a wide range of devices (think of responsive design for mobile access for example).”
It’s also worth pointing out, says Andy Brown, that “a user-friendly and intuitive interface can significantly reduce the need for customer support, as users are less likely to encounter problems or get confused.”
“By prioritising good UX, your business can differentiate itself from competitors and boost revenue,” says David Coveney, director, interconnect. This is particularly important adds Andy Brown because “multiple alternatives are a single click away”.
“A positive user experience can help to build loyalty to a product or a brand,” says Adam Snook, technical consultant, OpenAthens: “Good UX design shows that a publisher cares about the end user and it can help build your product reputation, so people will want to come back. Poor UX design can turn away users in favour of your competitors, pirate sites or freely available content on the web.”
When considering UX, cautions interconnect’s David Coveney, “it’s crucial to make conscious decisions about optimising user journeys based on your company’s values. It’s essential to acknowledge that UX also has a darker side. Some companies exploit users’ expectations and deceive them into acting against their interests, in favour of the business. This strategy, known as dark patterns, is a manipulative approach that can be applied to both UX and marketing.”
Publishers benefit from “a well-developed infrastructure that supports efficient production, distribution, and marketing of content,” says Papermule’s Mike Hoy.
“Mark Allen has been a print publisher for over 40 years,” points out Mark Allen Group’s Richard Hamshere, “and we pride ourselves on understanding what makes the magazine experience ‘special’. We know what is possible with print and how to experiment with fonts, spacing, pacing and imagery to engage our readers. All concepts that massively pre-dated the internet!”
“Our strengths certainly lie in the agility of print production teams to pivot and flex according to shortening lead times and the emerging need to execute magazine print production on a more ‘just in time’ basis. As the influence and significance of audience and engagement data continues to grow, we must react more quickly than ever before to last minute changes of direction. Both print production teams and printers are having to be nimbler,” says Future’s Mark Constance.
Gareth Roberts, managing director, Bishops Printers, concurs: “A key strength has to be the speed of completion. With the right technological investment, it takes a matter of days from when your print files are submitted to the finished product arriving at your premises or mailing house. And if it’s the latter, magazines can be released to post in as little as 24 hours thanks to advances in data processing software and machine fulfilment. Speed matters because it gives you more time to sell advertising space and produce quality journalism, while your audience gets to enjoy content that is still fresh and topical.”
“Many publishers have been slow to adapt their production processes to digital formats,” says Andy Brown.
This has often meant, adds WoodWing’s Dani Leyhue, that “print writers, web writers and mobile app production often exist in separate silos. Content is not shared across the different departments and mass inefficiencies are created. Multichannel content strategy is a growing trend in content production.”
According to Benn Linfield, head of design and production, Which?, “Our strengths as publishers are in original content creation, though in design and production, we are often using tools in isolation that don’t connect well with each other. Areas of excellence exist everywhere within a publishing operation, but creating a workflow using the right technologies and working practices that simplify and join people and their work together is still a gap many publishers have failed to tackle effectively. Breaking down the inter-departmental or inter-personal barriers that protect older ways of working or challenge the use and replacement of niche or bespoke software in teams can help overcome these weaknesses and create more time for talent and creativity to be used to better effect.”
Andy Brown advises publishers to “increase investment in digital publishing capabilities, explore cost-effective production and distribution models and embrace emerging technologies.”
Print sector challenges
“An ever-contracting UK print market is seeing options for print production start to become more polarised,” says Mark Constance: “We’ve seen the number of key players dwindle in recent years, and the exit of the gravure market from the UK is going to place more pressure on web offset.”
Not engaging properly with suppliers
“From our perspective,” says David Coveney, “there is a weakness in not talking to suppliers and taking up training offers. I know training can seem boring and expensive, but there are so many little hints and tips that can make life easier and often it goes beyond the direct products. In a classroom setting, I use triple click and middle click a lot, and when people see me do it, their reaction is like they just learned a new magic trick. I would advise publishers not to be too timid around partners and suppliers.”
“As an industry, in today’s current climate, there is a need to do much more for less. With the cutbacks that we have experienced over many years now, there are challenges with having a small workforce,” cautions Kevin Shelcott, senior operations leader and production director, EKCS: “Publishing is an ever-evolving landscape and one that can be difficult to make a profit on! Publishers of all sizes often need ways to better engage with their clients for ad production, copy chasing, and artwork approvals. Some need to improve creative production processes and reduce the admin time of their creative and sales teams so they can focus on more productive tasks.”
eMagazines’ Blake Pollard adds: “Physical (and digital) magazines are made up of publishers’ most valuable / premium content. This is and will continue be the core strength of traditional magazine publishers. Publishers do not have the resources to build beautiful mobile versions of their magazines.” The solution? “Find a technology partner to turn this weakness into a strength.”
“Publishers can learn valuable production and UX lessons from other industries that have successfully embraced user-centric approaches and technological advancements,” says Cesare Navarotto.
“Understanding human behaviour is essential to delivering products and services that meet user needs,” adds OpenAthens’ Adam Snook: “Publishers can look to UX specialists to learn about the latest in user-centred design, user testing, and iterative product development. Personalisation of the user experience is a key element of this. Publishers may find inspiration from other industries such as big tech, banking and retail that offer great user experience.”
But Which?’s Benn Linfield cautions: “It’s often easier to idolise the perceived excellence in other businesses than it is to accept that change needs to come from within a business, as most businesses are unique. Applying digital working practices in a more traditional business does not suddenly make it modern and dynamic. Small steps, made by agreeing and discussing process changes that will help an existing business model can often have greater effect than transposing a business model from another organisation into one that may not find it suitable. It’s essential to look at successes elsewhere, but filter out the bits you need, and use those improvements to build successful change in a manageable and realistic way.”
Below are selected industries and their particular strengths which our contributors feel publishers can take inspiration from:
Retail & e-commerce
- Personalisation: “E-commerce platforms excel at personalising the user experience by leveraging data and analytics. Publishers can adopt similar techniques to personalise content recommendations, provide tailored reading suggestions, and offer customised experiences based on user preferences and behaviour.” (Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex)
- Seamless & intuitive: “Retail provides seamless and intuitive shopping experiences that initially acquire and move quickly to focusing on retaining customers.” (Matt Poole, chief product officer, Immediate Media)
- Ease of purchase: Mike Hoy admires the “seamless checkout processes” and “frictionless subscription sign-ups”. Richard Hamshere adds, “it’s always instructive to look at how easy it is to buy an iPhone or Tesla.”
- More choice: “Supermarkets excel at catering to varying customer needs, whether it’s a quick purchase or a full shopping experience. Publishers can adopt a similar approach by providing content and purchasing options that cater to different user intents – for example, a lot of people are suffering from subscription fatigue, but still have money to spare so options other than subscriptions could be a win.” (David Coveney, director, interconnect)
- Enhanced sampling opportunities: “Record shops often let customers sample music before making a purchase. Publishers can apply this principle by offering previews, free trials, or sample chapters, giving users the opportunity to familiarise themselves with content before deciding to buy or subscribe. Even on the newsstand, people can sample content easily without pop-ups or intrusions.” (David Coveney, director, interconnect)
- Social proof: “User-generated reviews and ratings can help publishers build trust.” (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
- Knowing where to invest: “Initially, each manufacturer invested in their own in-car infotainment, but later opted to join the ecosystem of device operating systems (eg. Apple CarPlay). By integrating with the ecosystems of Apple, Google etc, they kept things simple for the customer at the same time as reducing their own investment in software. (Matt Poole, chief product officer, Immediate Media)
- Empathy and understanding user needs: “Car manufacturers often have their test drivers wear “old age” suits or observe people from different market segments using their vehicles. This approach fosters empathy and allows them to better understand users’ needs, which is crucial in designing an intuitive user experience.” (David Coveney, director, interconnect)
- Specialisation: “Before the birth of the assembly line, each worker would walk around the car adding small parts until the car was completed. With the assembly line, the car moves to each worker who is great at one small piece of constructing the car. The amount of efficiency gained was revolutionary. Producing and creating content could be like this. Every person works on one small step before the content is finished and published everywhere it needs to go.” (Dani Leyhue, product manager, WoodWing)
- UX: Richard Hamshere says: “just try watching / listening to something on Netflix or Spotify. The BBC has no adverts in the UK so are able to do things differently, but they are always improving and iterating the UX on their platforms. Consider how Tik Tok, or even Chat GPT and other LLMs / AI, have come along seemingly yesterday, and changed everything once again. So, whether you like or loathe these things, always look and learn when it comes to UX.”
- Data-led: “Publishers can learn from marketing and advertising industries in leveraging data analytics to gain insights into user behaviour, preferences, and content performance. Utilising data-driven decision-making can help publishers optimise content strategies, identify trends, and deliver more relevant and impactful content to their audience.” (Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex)
- User-centric design: “Publishers can learn from user interface design principles used in software and app development. By prioritising user needs, intuitive navigation, and clear content presentation, publishers can create user-centric designs that enhance the reading experience and improve content discoverability.” (Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex)
- Content discovery: “Publishers can borrow techniques from streaming services to improve content discoverability, such as curated recommendations, tailored content suggestions, and effective search functionality. (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
- Community building: “Social media encourages user-generated content while facilitating conversations and social sharing, all helping build a sense of community and an expanded reach while advertising the brand and expanding its reach.” (Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule)
Blake Pollard adds, “a good example is Apple News+. Instead of offering PDF replicas, they created a new standard for consumer magazine issues and articles on mobile devices.”
- Continuous improvement: “The gaming industry often uses a co-design or community-based design approach; making iterative improvements with each release.” (Adam Snook, technical consultant, OpenAthens)
- Gamification and rewards: “The gaming industry has mastered the art of engaging users through gamification and rewards systems. Publishers can consider incorporating elements like badges, achievements, or progress tracking to make reading experiences more interactive, enjoyable, and rewarding.” (Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex)
- Push notifications and reminders: “Using push notifications to notify readers about new releases, personalised recommendations, or updates can help publishers stay connected with their audience and increase engagement.” (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
- Matt Bradford, digital creative, Mark Allen Group
- Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow
- Mark Constance, group head of production, Future
- David Coveney, director, interconnect
- Paul Doyle, head of editorial video, Immediate Media
- India Dunkley, content editor, Mark Allen Group
- Rich Edwards, UX/UI designer, Mark Allen Group
- Richard Hamshere, group production director, Mark Allen Group
- Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule
- Dani Leyhue, product manager, WoodWing
- Benn Linfield, head of design and production, Which?
- Colin Miller, videographer/photographer, Mark Allen Group
- Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex
- Koli Pickersgill, production director, Immediate Media
- Blake Pollard, co-founder and CRO, eMagazines
- Matt Poole, chief product officer, Immediate Media
- Gareth Roberts, managing director, Bishops Printers
- Kevin Shelcott, senior operations leader and production director, EKCS
- Adam Snook, technical consultant, OpenAthens
- Gemma Spence, head of product, Mark Allen Group
- Ben Youatt, head of podcasts, Immediate Media
This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.