Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, Part 1

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It seems that a more appropriate name for the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit would be the “Digital Publishing Survival Summit.” I may be naive, but I did not expect that the driving topics of a digital publishing conference would be advertising and socialization.

Today, I attended the first day of the two-day conference “Digital Publishing Innovation Summit” featuring speakers from Gannett, Scholastic, Harper Collins, Wiley, Pearson, Conde Nast… at the Marriott East Side in Manhattan. I went expecting/hoping to hear about revolutionary ways of producing and publishing multimedia content i.e. text, image, audio, video, data visualization for multiple platforms from a single source. That is to hear about the integration of multimedia for the web, ebooks and apps from a single click. That magical editor that allows for the integration of file formats to produce rich interactive content across platforms. No such luck, clearly the best bet is HTML5/CSS/JS and the modern browser… that much I knew. Instead the speakers focused on transformations that publishers have begun to make and will continue to figure out in order to reach a diverse audience across diverse platforms.

Amongst the speakers there was a mix of old and new from long-standing publishing companies to digital native startups. I’m going to give a quick rundown of the speakers and what I took away from their presentations.

I arrived late and only caught the last ten minutes of Gannett’s David Payne – “The Hard Thing About Hard Things in Media.” I don’t think that I missed much, because the wrap up was merely about the diverse challenges that publishers face today, most of which have been widely publicized over the last decade.

I very much enjoyed Scholatic’s Heather Cassano presentation on UX and product development through “LightningLabs.” She effectively broke down 4-day design challenge in which a group of about 5 people are given a design challenge:

  • Day 1 – Brain Prep – get everyone on the same page, look at goals, review information on stakeholders, available products, analyze the problem. The first day includes “lunch time theater” in which the participants enact prototypical stakeholders. The actors reflect the skill set, attitude, behavior and needs (personas are assigned a week ahead so actors may prep). Another portion of the first day is the “Amazing Race” in which the participants spend a few minutes with various apps, use them, try to figure them out. Participants consider the UX pyramid, from the bottom up: Goals, Tone/Expression, Personality, Promise.
  • Day 2 – Prototyping and iteration using paper and stencil UX toolkit to make lots of designs. At the end of the day, the bake off presents the best idea to then make a paper functioning version.
  • Day 3 – Usability testing with 6 diverse users. She pointed out that 6 diverse users will reflect 80% of what a larger test-base would present… 6 users can represent the target. Since it’s Scholastic, the development group may go to a school on day 3 to test with groups – 4 teachers and 5 students.
  • Day 4 – Create higher-fidelity prototype and test again. Establish a roadmap for the product and future work – plan next lab, if the product is worth pursuing.

The next speaker Jim Daily of Ebuzzing & Teads is a tool. He spent several minutes talking about and demonstrating video ads. “In-read” ads that are embedded in articles, they only play with sound when moused over, they have skip buttons which will make them disappear or social buttons to share… And a second type of video ad that opens from the top with the same behavior. Not very interesting or innovative, but Jim Daily did open by pointing out that he knows how to make money. No meat, but he was quick.

Brian Perrin and Jim Hanas of Harper Collins discussed the lasting power of deep immersive reading. They pointed out that book revenues are now UP, both print and ebooks. Over the last several years there has been a difficult period of transition toward establishing ebook systems that have now begun to stabilize. They can now predict how many print and ebooks of a publication will sell and that print and ebooks work together for sales. People will pick up the hard copy to review it and later purchase the ebook. The print book acts as an ad for the ebook. What they are still working on is direct to consumer marketing and sales. Hence they have partnered with subscription services like Oyster Books and Scribd.

Jordan Kretchmer, founder and CEO of LiveFyre was very entertaining and informative. In “Taking Back Your Community: How to Build an Engaged Audience” Kretchmer made a pitch for publishers to socialize their sites and steal back their audience from FB or Twitter. He pointed out that publisher’s content is making money for the social networks – people engage and share content through FB, so he considers these viewers as “leased” viewers since they really belong to FB.

Rather than depending on the social networks for distribution of a publishers content, why don’t the publishers build their own channels that are visited directly. He pitched a socialization business plan of Content, Engagement, Identity and Monetization.

Kretchmer presented Storify and Mashable as two content builders that are making the most of the web. Cnet as a great example for user engagement. So much of engagement today depends on connectivity – who in the audience is connected to one another and why, what do they have in common? Identity – who is the user, what will drive a user to write a comment? Monetization through user generated content. Examples include Nike using images by consumer to make banner ads. Univision with T-Mobile to create a platform for user generated content around the World Cup.

As each speaker was given 30 minutes, this was only in the morning! I’ll continue into the afternoon on the next post.