Last Thursday the Specialised Information Publishers Association held a one day event in London. I have been involved with this association in various guises for nearly 15 years but can honestly say this was one of my favourite meetings during that time. Well done to Louise White and Karen Hindle for organising & many thanks to all our speakers.
For those who couldn’t make it I wanted to highlight some of the key things I took from the day:
David Cushman‘s keynote “A New Era for Specialist Media” – David has posted his presentation online so you can read it for yourself. However, the main angle I took from this was that in a networked world new media models need to be developed to take advantage of peer-to-peer communication. Specialist and niche media owners were best placed to do this by creating ‘social objects’ around their content that tracked the downstream journey of conversations and any eventual purchase. No-one really had an idea how this would be done (!) but it started the conversation off nicely which I always believe is the sign of a great keynote.
Julian Turner then spoke about “Traffic and Jam on the Digital Highway – The real experience of online migration” – Julian gave an overview of his experience building Electric Word (a specialist B2B & B2C media company). Julian’s presentation started off by discussing how one of the big problems with an evolving media world was the words that were used. He referenced this great interview with Chris Anderson for Spiegel magazine and pointed to the way that terms like content and advertising were changing in a digital media world. Neil Thackray has already provided a good write-up of some of the themes covered.
From this point the conference split into round table format. Feedback from previous SIPA events has always shown these to be the most popular and I agree. The only problem with tracks of round tables is that you cannot attend them all. These are the ones I did attend:
Dominic Jacquesson (Ink on Dead Trees) and Ed Coburn (Harvard Health Publishing) hosted a session on “Digital Publishing: E-Readers, iPhone Apps and Beyond“. In reality we spent most of the time testing out different models of e-readers and assessing the likely winners in the e-reader / tablet / expanded iPhone style smart phone battles. The general conclusions the group came to was that e-readers had a place in specialist publishing. The inevitable move would be away from proprietary operating systems (like Amazon’s Kindle) and into an open source environment and they were well suited for academic textbooks and some form of networking to share notes. However, the big problem our group highlighted was the difficulty of delivering video and other forms of multi-media content. This is why the consensus was that we would see further technology advances and media convergence around smart phones and tablet computers.
After lunch Louise White (Incisive Media) and Vicky Priest (Emap Inform) ran through a couple of case studies on “Transitioning Products from Print to Online“. Both of our hosts were very open about the problems facing print products and shared some frightening graphs on readership and renewal rates for subscriptions. They then described projects within their companies to turn things around. Incisive Media’s project involved taking a range of newsletters and a controlled circulation magazine, bundling them up online and re-packaging the resulting portal as a site licence product. Louise highlighted some of the changes internally that this had driven and encouraged the attendees to think ‘beyond publisher’s own brands’. She said that in the past online efforts at the company had very much focused on taking a print brand and translating that content to a website format. This was the problem. Incisive’s focus was now on building new online subscription offerings – that were increasingly workflow or tool based – and offering them on a one-to-many rather than a one-to-one basis.
Vicky then gave a similar case study of the evolving Broadcast magazine subscription offering. In research the Emap Inform team had found that the a relatively neglected part of their content – the commissioning database – was highly valued by their readers. The problem was that this had never really been built as an interactive product and the information was presented by the magazine website at the wrong time of week. Vicky highlighted a process of reader panels undertaken with the editors that had led to the creation of a new service and a decision to offer this database exclusively to subscribers when the subscription pay wall was reintroduced online. The initial results had been positive but we had a long debate about whether Emap would have been better off launching this as a new and standalone product.
The final session I attended was the smallest of the round tables but was one of the most interesting. We looked at some case studies from SIPA publishing award winners to discuss what had led to the success of various projects within member firms.
First up was Emma Rogers (Electric Word) who discussed the launch of a new and best-selling text-book series for schools. Emma highlighted a new piece of educational policy that was being introduced covering Primary Assemblies for SEAL. Emma explained how an original concept had been brought to market very rapidly with a conference and fast follow-up on a range of books. These had gone on to become record sellers within the Electric Word portfolio and one of the key points Emma made was about how to benchmark and spot the winners in your business at an early stage and push resources at them.
Emma was followed by Andy Williams (Informa Pharma) who described a campaign to capitalise on the interest in swine flu to drive trials and customers to the company’s ScripNews service. Andy highlighted how his team had pulled together a range of content from a variety of internal and external sources to create a ‘swine flu portal’. The team had created mash-ups of data presented on Google maps to geographically represent the spread of outbreaks and showed how, if you are quick, a specialist publisher could utilise a wide range of new media tools to drive a new audience to their sites.
At the wrap up for the day we discussed how specialist publishing was clearly at a tipping point. It was significant that a lot of the things that seemed to be holding back the development of the sector were due to legacy issues and often the need to protect an out-dated business model.
I suppose if I were to take away one thing from the day it was that specialist publishers are in the driving seat for the evolution of media markets. However, we must be brave. Wherever possible we must not be restricted by the language and models of the past.
[The Specialised Information Publishers Association (SIPA) is a US-based organisation that evolved from the old newsletter publishing businesses. Our members are generally grounded in the provision of paid for information services through a variety of channels. The UK branch of the association hosts a range of conferences, training courses and networking sessions. If your company is involved in this area and you would like further details on membership then please visit http://sipaonline.com/sipauk]