After nine years at WoodWing, four years as a WoodWing diamond partner, and five years as a designer, we caught up with Dani to talk about digital transformation in publishing - from challenges and legacy processes, to change management and opportunity.
Dani, you had an unusual route into your current role. But it’s one that’s equipped you perfectly to support publishers on their digital transformation journey. How did you go from graphic designer to software product manager?
I started using WoodWing products back in October 2010. It was the start of the iPad boom and everyone wanted to get their content onto the iPad. There was a company that was looking for people to translate print content into digital and I started doing that as a designer. They quickly asked me to become a trainer to help other people do the same. Before long, I’d become an analyst and started to focus more on implementation and workflow.
Then in March 2019, there was another big exciting change from Apple. Apple News+ comes out and - as soon as I heard about that - I said “I want to be on the team that figures out how this works. This is so cool. Let me in!” So I moved over to the Content Operations department within WoodWing. At peak, roughly 170 titles were publishing to Apple News+ and using WoodWing software to get them onto that platform.
So I have a lot of experience under my belt of actually using WoodWing Studio, of seeing what it can do. When the opportunity came up in March 2022 to join the WoodWing product management team, I jumped at the chance because I just really believe in the software and the transformation it supports.
So you’ve seen things from both sides of the partnership - as a publisher and now from the software side - which means you’ve unique insights into the challenges and opportunities in the sector. When you’re thinking about digital transformation, what are the main pain points that publishers need to overcome?
I’d say the first thing to realize is that digital transformation is constantly evolving. Each time a new platform comes out, there is a trend for publishers to hire a new department to manage that one platform. Here's my web team. Here's my social team. Here's my print team.
But as more and more platforms emerge, those silos just don’t work anymore. You create more and more teams and none of them are working together or collaborating. And that introduces huge inefficiencies
Can you give us an example from your time at WoodWing?
Oh plenty! Once I was working with a publisher - they’ll not mind me sharing this - and they were writing a story on the Olympics for their print magazine. The writer who was creating it left the company so they hired a new writer to cover the print story. The new writer continues writing the article.
But elsewhere in the same company, there’s also a writer in the web team working on a story about the Olympics. So - in the end - they’d paid three different writers to write a story about the Olympics.
Whereas they could have written it once and distributed it on both channels. Multiply that one example across the entire business and think about how much time and money could be saved.
It’s understandable that publishers have created these silos to deal with new platforms. The pace of change and the disruptive nature of new technology is really hard to keep up with. But it’s increasingly obvious that it’s not sustainable. What’s the alternative?
Every time a new platform comes out, it feels like one more thing to manage, and that’s hard. But change is constant nowadays. New platforms emerge all the time. So adding more and more separate teams to manage each platform isn’t sustainable.
There are ways of managing change and disruption that can make your life so much easier. However, you need to be willing to make changes culturally and within your workflow.
It's all about channel-neutral publishing. Stop thinking ‘print first’. Stop thinking about ‘digital first’. Remove those channel-specific labels. Think content first.
There’s no print team. No web team. No sequence of ‘this platform then that platform’. No shoehorning in new processes for each new channel.
You focus on writing the story, selecting the media, getting approvals, and creating quality. Then your content flows simultaneously into multiple platforms. That’s the channel-neutral workflow.
It is a big mindset shift but it's where we see the industry moving. You just need the right mindset - and leadership - to see how it can transform your business.
There are so many benefits to the channel-neutral workflow but some publishers haven’t embraced it yet. What barriers do you see in the sector?
There’s not a lot of awareness around it yet. That’s the first challenge. Publishers not knowing that this is an option - and a very advantageous one at that. It’s hard to raise awareness when there’s a limited amount of information on the topic.
The next barrier is print-centric thinking. And again - no judgment here - channel-neutral is a difficult concept to understand. But whenever I meet a publisher for the first time, they’ll ask ‘How do I transform my print into X, Y, or Z’ and I ask them “Why are we starting with print?”
People are so focused on protecting their current way of working - or optimizing it and making it work better - that they don’t see that there are other ways of doing things now. It doesn’t have to be about improving how your print-to-digital processes work. It’s about improving how your processes support your overall goals.
I always want to start with their goals. Not their current processes. Not their current team structures. Let's talk about your goal. Is your goal to repurpose print in a digital format? Because if that's your goal, that's fine. We’ll talk about the best way to do that.
But if your goal is to be more efficient, to save time, to unlock the value in your content, and to align content supply to demand then we need a mindset shift. We need to get out of the ‘let’s improve how we do things now’ mindset. And we need to start looking at the new opportunities waiting for publishers that are willing to leave legacy systems behind. They’re the ones who’ll build something fit for purpose for the new multichannel publishing landscape.
Can you give us an example?
Often, when I first start working with publishers, they know they need a digital product, so they’ve thought ‘We can create a PDF for people to read online’. But that doesn’t explore - or exploit - the full potential of digital publishing. I support them to see what other options exist and why they might be better.
You see, PDF isn't really optimized for your customer. So it's not going to give you the return on investment you’re looking for.
When someone swipes to a page in a digital magazine, whatever platform it is, you have three seconds to capture interest. If someone swipes to a PDF page - and they're on an iPhone, say - and that PDF is small and they can’t read the headline, they're not going to zoom in. They’re going to click away because you’ve already lost their interest.
It's about finding a way to unlock what you already have and making sure that it's being flowed into each of those platforms in the best way possible - so the reader loves engaging with it and you can get the best ROI from your content.
So which brands are getting the best ROI, in your opinion?
The brands that are the most successful on digital have fully embraced it. And by that I mean they’re making full use of all the additional functionality digital publishing provides.
A really good example is around Christmas time. You’re publishing an article or shopping list on the best gifts to buy for people for the holidays. In a digital platform, you can add an affiliate link to each of those different items. You get ROI for every person that clicks on it. You can not do that in a print magazine or in a PDF that’s too small for people to read on their mobile device.
Another good example is that if I'm working on an article for print, it's flat. It just exists on a page. But if I look over at the social media team. They’ve just shot a video unboxing the hottest gifts for this holiday season. I could repurpose that video or embed it in my digital article.
Suddenly my article is so much more engaging. We know that distribution points have SEO ratings and algorithms tied to raising and promoting articles with interactivity. A small change will help promote that article and raise its profile. You’re getting more engagement from existing readers and you’re driving traffic from potential new readers too.
And then there’s analytics. In digital platforms, you now have data about what people are looking at, how often are they looking at it, what pages are they interacting with, etc. In print, you have no idea. You send out the printed booklet and you know people are reading it, but you don't know which pages they're reading the most.
Once you start to gain that knowledge, you can start to cater to different audience interests - create more articles that people are actually reading. So it allows you to focus on what your brand is really good at. It's a whole new mindset as to how we create content.
Ok, so shaking off the print-centric mindset is very important. What else?
I think there’s a big knowledge gap. Companies know they want to publish to multiple endpoints but don’t know how to do it in-house. And that’s understandable. It’s hard for an in-house team to distribute across every possible endpoint channel and opportunity in their business. There’s still fairly limited expertise in this world about channel-neutral publishing as a solution.
Being aware that there are limitations to your in-house expertise - and that that could be holding back your ambitions - is the first step to broadening your horizons.
The next struggle is cultural change and getting buy-in. Because once you set up the goal and everyone's aligned on it, you need all of your key players to understand and support it. You need leaders to say ‘This is important to the business. We need to make sure that digital is just as important to print.’
Because what comes next is a big shift. I know it's really hard for a lot of publishers to hear. But it’s merging the teams. Right now, if you have your print editors, you have your web editors, you have your digital distribution teams, they're all separate. But as soon as you start merging these teams, that's when you can unlock and get content out faster.
Then the last big area is cost. Of course, it's a factor. It takes time and energy to figure out how all of this works. There's an investment into creating templates and working with the experts to make sure that things flow the way that they need to. And that can be a big barrier to change. But when you look at it as an investment - and see the efficiency gains and the monetization opportunities - you start to see the ROI.
Obviously, WoodWing offers creative workflow consultancy and digital publishing services to help publishers understand and navigate their options here. Can you talk a little bit about that? What are the pros and cons?
Outsourcing to someone like WoodWing can help you get to your goals faster. It can take you from wanting a digital product to actually having a digital product - and much faster than if you are trying to develop it in-house.
But I see it as a stepping stone to taking things back in-house when you’re ready - just with greater knowledge and confidence than you started with.
The best analogy I have is that when you're outsourcing, it's like you're renting a home. It is a little bit more expensive. You're paying someone else. You don't fully take ownership of things, but it’s convenient. Someone else does the upkeep. You haven’t had to fully commit. You’re getting what you need but it’s flexible.
Eventually, you get to a point where you're like “I want to paint the walls. I want to be able to do other things. It's gonna be cheaper for me in the long run if I just buy.” And that’s when the time’s right to stop outsourcing and bring things in-house.
And - precisely because you’ve outsourced - you have the workflows set up right, you have the templates perfected, you’ve upskilled your staff alongside your partner, and you’re ready to run with it yourselves.
Dani had so much to share that this is just an abridged version of some of the topics we covered. For more of her insights into digital transformation for publishers - both in terms of publishing platforms and production processes - watch Digital Transformation for Publishers: The Dos and Don’ts in Digital Publishing now.