Graham Halling, Digital Business Director, Telecom Express.
Increasingly publishers seem to be convinced that maintaining profitable interactive relationships with their audience means migrating as many of them as possible to fixed or mobile internet digital products.
The result can be a divergence of print and digital business units and objectives, each working towards different, contradictory objectives. The upshot is that traditional print products are often woefully under-utilised as interactive channels and neither medium manages to exploit the overlaps and compliment the other commercially.
Of course, with the success (or otherwise) of pay-walls, VOD, bundling, paid-for premium-content and evolving digital advertising models, one overall consideration has to sit at the heart of media owners’ strategic revenue-generation planning:
What can become digital, will become digital.
Far too often however, this is being read as ‘print is dead / digital is king’ which has led to a predominant ‘either or’ mentality within media owners and their partitioned print and digital commercial teams.
So it is important to ensure that when looking for ways to maximise interactive revenue returns from traditional print business, we resist the instinct to limit ‘migration’ of existing consumers across the different platforms but rather look to exploit the strengths and characteristics of each medium in definite terms.
Many integrated digital strategies (online, mobile and social) have been entirely airlifted from the original internet models of ten or more years ago and re-purposed for this wider environment.
Whilst advertising and sponsorship revenues will undoubtedly grow in these areas, the lessons of the original race to dedicated .co.uk publishing businesses ought to be more regularly consulted if the gap between print and digital advertising revenues are not to cause another round of red faces and puzzled expressions.
What this specifically means for the interactive services sector is that whilst continuing to offer interactive solutions through all channels (voice, text, postal) across all platforms, we should recognise that even our most traditional print audiences will increasingly be consuming content and therefore interacting with us through all of the channels and platforms, so publishers need to embrace this multi-usage not defend against it behind commercial demarcations.
More than ever before, interactive content can be used to bridge gaps between traditional print and developing digital assets. From releasing multi-media content off-the-page to minimising ‘friction’ in response mechanics, use of new technology to enhance existing content and interactivity is the key driver in protecting core revenues and realising new streams.
What we see on a frighteningly regular basis is a departure from direct reader interaction into digital serving. By this I mean that a publisher has developed mobile apps, mobile optimised websites or tablet-focused digital editions (often all three) but barely considered:
a) how to utilise these new platforms to ‘migrate’ traditional interactions (such as competitions, voting, polling and so on) and
b) how to position these digital assets so as not to entirely separate them from the print products (and by definition all those current reader interactions).
On a daily basis we’re asked by our print media clients “What can we make Interactive?”
The somewhat offhand answer to that is “whatever you can imagine” but in familiar terms, all of the staple services that have worked off-the-page or over a telephone line can re-invent themselves:
- Multi-media content released ‘behind’ print
- Competition entry
- Competition mechanics
- User Generated Content
- Participation competitions and events
- Subscriber services
- Loyalty/Rewards programmes
- Search & discover services
- Reference services
- Games and social marketing enablers
Whilst the market for interactive titles continues to grow as smartphone penetration comfortably passes 50% and tablet penetration increases, in most cases actual ‘real’ direct-reader interactivity has largely been neglected beyond the online model of click-through advertising banners and sponsored content. Content-release technologies such as QR codes and Microsoft Tags are largely used to simply transport from print to digital assets and even newer experiential technologies such as augmented reality have been appropriated to perform a similar job in releasing content from printed matter.
The general picture is of interactivity actually being less a two-way ‘involvement’ and more a hook with which to snare offline readers into online assets.
Publishers need to remember that interactivity remains a fundamentally two-way process with mutual ‘pay-off’ for both publisher and reader essential in order to strengthen engagement with a title. The most effective solutions concentrate on creating a bridge between the print and digital environments, allowing exploration and enjoyment of these growing channels without severing the traditional reading experience or compromising direct revenue-generating opportunities from audiences.
In the coming months, those publishers who deploy technology and innovative solutions to truly interact with their readers through the existing print relationship will take huge strides towards finally striking a balance between defence of their print businesses and development of their digital activities.