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Jim Foster on the world of ePublishing

Jim Foster

Posted on: 26 November 2015

Terri White - an editor enthused by digital.
Almost unbelievably, we’ve reached the last issue of InPublishing in 2015. So I thought I’d concoct a short piece about what I’ve learned this year when it comes to digital and – hypothetically speaking – the strategies I would apply if I was crazy enough to launch a media brand from scratch today, based on those learnings.

Firstly, and despite being obvious (and often overlooked), it’s more important than ever to have a clear perspective of the kind of content your reader wants – and just as importantly, an editor and team who can deliver that content and understand how you’re going to publish it on each platform, and when.

If I had a tenner for every time I’ve heard the phrase, ‘content is king’, I’d have a decent bit of dosh. But, despite being annoying, the phrase is bang on the money. If your content isn’t good enough, all the technical wonders in the universe aren’t going to make a new brand successful.

I had my first meeting with the new Empire editor, Terri White, a couple of weeks back. She positively radiated enthusiasm for the brand, for digital, and knew precisely the importance of strategic thinking when it comes to content distribution across platforms. She requested data on the exact type of material Empire readers would love to see on their phones and tablets, along with when they consume it, in order to generate a plan of action to take the phone and tablet editions forward, complementing web and print in the process.

Simple really, but crucial all the same.

We had a chat after the meeting in which I thanked her for her input and said how cool it was to have an editor enthused by digital, as opposed to being scared by it, or worse, considering it outside their job remit.

We agreed that editorial staff who don’t accept digital and learn the necessary skills to go with it will be the ones most in danger of dropping out of the industry in the coming years. Harsh, but true. You can’t bury your head in the sand about it. What’s happening in publishing now is nothing short of a revolution. But unlike previous upheavals, it’s a revolution that will never end – it’s going to go on and on as tech keeps getting better and better.

I mentioned ‘Digital Darwinism’ in my last column and that’s precisely what it is. Media now is about survival of the fittest, about continually evolving to stay alive and grow. If you’re an editor and you don’t know your Android from your iOS, or your cross-platform content distribution strategy from your arse, then don’t be surprised if you’re working in McDonald’s to make ends meet in the not-too-distant future.

An editor’s role today is beyond comparison to what it was when I last edited a magazine a decade or so ago. So if I was launching a new media brand, I’d want a Terri White as editor. I’d want him or her to be demanding, understanding of the modern content needs of the readership and how digital works; able to work on a whim, accepting of the fact that we’re talking 24/7 media these days.

Secondly, I’d want an intuitive, structured content workflow installed from launch through a single CMS, with sound tech behind it to support the editorial team. It’s no use having an editor who knows what their readers want and when they want it if you can’t deliver that content quickly and easily to multiple platforms at the correct time.

We’re not the only publishers thinking along structured content lines. We’re not there yet, but the goal is to evolve the way editorial teams input, sub, distribute and archive content from a single, central management system so it flows to whatever platform you want it to flow to, at the click of a mouse. Content is tagged and structured so it flows easily into device-responsive, brand-bespoke templates for native app mobile editions, or online to mobile-optimised web pages and social platforms.

There will be no multiple-designs required for different digital app platforms and device screen sizes. Everything will be intuitive, efficient and easy to manage, with editors in charge not only of content creation, but also distribution and the addition of extra app functionality and content where appropriate.

Thirdly, having an app that is completely reliable, with instant technical support offering quick fixes and updates in the event of problems, is so important. At times, we’ve learned that the hard way at Bauer. Consumers don’t always want flashy functionalities, or animations. They just want to be able to download and read their content of choice quickly and easily, on and offline, when they want it, in a format that suits their device. It’s really not rocket science.

If I didn’t have all that, I wouldn’t launch a media brand today.

Fourthly, the importance of data collection, management, analytics and marketing has never been as important as it is now. This year has seen us make huge strides in these areas, so much so that September was Bauer UK’s best month ever in terms of digital edition revenues received, but the marketing work that went into achieving that was extensive.

Marketers need to be figuratively joined at the hip with editors. They need access to the CMS, to iTunes Connect, social media and so on to facilitate fast reaction to content demands from consumers. Such demands can come daily, fluctuate by the hour even, so staff need to know what’s going on and have app tools and analytics seamlessly integrated into the binaries and code bases of the apps / websites being worked on.

They need to know how to optimise search performance in app stores. The more apps we’re competing with, the more important rankings performance becomes, especially now Apple Newsstand has gone. And they need the skills to operate all those systems and report back on what works and what doesn’t.

More than ever before, all the strands of publishing need to align to win in the modern environment. No one would be in a job if we produced poor content. But great content won’t be a success if it’s not put where the customer wants it, and when. And everything will likely fail if your tech, search and marketing isn’t up to scratch.

It’s almost as if editorial strategy now has to be managed in an agile way – with planning meetings, daily scrums between departments so everyone knows what everyone is doing and what’s coming up. Perhaps editorial teams can learn from website dev teams in this respect.

I don’t ask for much, do I, but I’d want all of those things and more if I was to launch my own media brand in 2016. But I’ve run out of words, as I knew I would, so I’d better hobble off to McDonald’s for a burger.

Here’s hoping an old editor of mine isn’t behind the counter serving it!

‘Content is king’: despite being annoying, the phrase is bang on the money.

About Jim Foster
(Details last updated: 12 May 2014)

Jim Foster is head of ePublishing at Bauer UK.

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