How publishers can thrive in a post-Covid-19 world

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The Covid-19 crisis has created a new series of challenges for the publishing industry. Traffic is spiking for news publications in particular, but advertising dollars are fleeing as marketing budgets shrink.

Restrictions on movement mean that many teams are having to work wholly remotely for the first time, and margin pressures are forcing publishers to do more with less, yet again. 

Many of these challenges already existed. But the nature of the crises has given them extra speed. In this post we are going to look at some of these trends, how they are going to accelerate, and what publishers should be thinking about to manage these changes properly. 

 

Digital-only will grow, and print’s decline will accelerate

Pre-crisis, total global online traffic was 53% mobile phone (excluding tablets), and growing. In the US, 37% of magazine readership in June 2019 was mobile. These figures have been steadily growing for years. But now they are set to accelerate as print comes under pressure from multiple angles - not only are advertisers leaving, but in some key markets, distribution points aren’t accessible. 

Some well-capitalized publications will come through this hurt but alive, some nimble publishers will turn off their printing presses and focus only on digital channels, and sadly, some won’t make it. In time, new, digital-only publishers with innovative business models will emerge. 

What you need to do

Many publishers are still operating on a print-first workflow, adapting content for online, and adding mobile as a responsive version of an online article. But mobile is far more than a responsive web page. It includes interactive graphics, different article lengths to account for a smaller screen and shorter average time on page, shorter video lengths in consideration of users’ data concerns, and so on. In addition, there are intriguing possibilities around using location data to serve personalized content. Mobile needs to be considered a channel in its own right. 

In order to differentiate, publishers need to put a renewed emphasis on highly-designed digital content for mobile as well as desktop, particularly for native apps or Apple News where you provide a true proprietary experience. And for print, publishers should focus on creating templates that can be reused across titles and issues to minimize the amount of valuable design time required for each issue. 

Minimizing design and content creation time is critical, and removing tasks that slow down workflows, are repetitive, and/or have the potential to stop work in its tracks is critical. Which brings me to my next point!

 

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Content-first workflows will become standard

Content-first is the concept that content should first be created and approved by an editor before any discussion about channels. Designers and formatting should only come into play once a story is final. This saves time as it removes multiple points of friction and potential edits in the repurposing and formatting stages, as shown in the workflows below. 

content_first_0.jpg

When you are working remotely, your writer or editor can’t sit next to a designer and look at the final layout to tweak the text. Therefore, the circumstances dictate that you adopt a content-first approach by default. This is great news, as it means writers, editors, and designers are able to focus on their core competencies, and the organization can streamline and speed up its content workflow processes. 

What you need to do

If you do not already have a content-first workflow in place, now is the time to start. The exact way to create this is really dependent on your organization and specific needs. However, it is advisable to start small and iterate your way to a new way of working. Workflow expert Kilian Schalk recommends starting with a minimum viable setup of a cloud-based editing tools (for example, a basic setup of Google Docs, Slack, and Zoom) and an internal willingness to collaborate, test, and iterate your way to a robust workflow. In the longer term, software and tools that are better suited to workflow management with multiple stakeholders may be adopted.

Centralized content creation and publishing solutions will enable (remote) contributors to log in, work, and publish to different titles and channels from one place.

 

Reuse is a huge untapped resource

Announcements of newspaper and magazine publishers closing has happened with frightening regularity over the past months. More consolidation will take place as publishers need to pool their resources to survive. 

However, there is already a huge under-tapped opportunity for publishers to achieve productivity gains - content reuse. At one publisher working with WoodWing, content creators previously wrote for one title, when in fact in many cases articles could have been reused across multiple titles. At scale, this meant the organization was producing far more content than it needed. In fact, they were producing significantly more content than their competitors - a drain on resources at the best of times and dangerous to the health of the business at the worst. 

What you need to do

Nearly every publisher has a large amount of content (including images) that can be reused or repurposed, but few take a systematic, data-driven approach to it. Content should be created with a brand-neutral approach to any and all content that is not local by nature, such as international news, business news, and so on. Reuse needs to be baked into the lifecycle of every individual article. The publisher mentioned above takes this approach, and is seeing a material benefit from the initiative. 

A lot of this needs to happen at the organizational level, but in addition, a single Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution, combined with strong metadata governance, will help contributors find, share, and reuse assets and content across titles. 

 

The remote working trend becomes permanent

For many industries remote working is likely to be temporary. But due to the overheads associated with office space and budgets slashed by the advertising slowdown, for some publishers, it could be permanent. 

This throws up a whole host of challenges for organizations having to permanently adapt to remote working on the fly, such as:

  • How to ensure staff have access to the right software. 
  • How to train staff to use different software. 
  • How to support staff if they run into an issue.

But there are advantages too. Remote teams means lower overheads. In addition, everyone can work from anywhere at any time, which brings advantages in terms of flexibility around deadlines or big stories. And the right management and systems, remote teams can become extremely nimble and efficient. In fact, some organizations may not even want to go back to the ways they were previously working. Their remote team and setup could prove leaner, more efficient, and more budget-friendly than anything that had come before. 

What you need to do

With entire teams permanently working remotely, cloud-based solutions accessible from the browser become more important than ever. As mentioned above, workflow solutions are also important, as you can’t sit next to your designer or walk up to your editor. Likewise, user experience is critical, as technical support - even of the informal kind where you ask your neighbor how to do something - is not always on-hand. 

As your organization and workflows evolve, so too should your technology. You may need to start out small and nimble, such as with the Google Docs/Slack/Zoom setup mentioned above. But in the long run, you will need a robust integrated system that you can use to create channel-neutral content, manage workflows, publish to different channels, and store and find all your assets. 

 

Once more unto the breach

Covid-19 is piling challenges on the publishing industry at a time when it is still vulnerable. But the opportunities to evolve should not be underestimated. In fact, initiatives such as data-driven reuse, content-first workflows, and permanent remote working could prove leaner, more efficient, and more budget friendly than anything that has come before. And when the pandemic is over, publishers that adopted these initiatives are the ones that have the potential to bounce back.

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Maarten Reinders, Chief Commercial Officer

Maarten is the Chief Commercial Officer at WoodWing. He is a seasoned commercial and business unit leader with a proven track record and international experience in sales, marketing and channel management. He is an inspiring commercial leader with extensive knowledge and experience in the IT software and infrastructure market.