As product manager for WoodWing Studio, what Dani Leyhue doesn’t know about digital publishing isn’t worth knowing. A design pioneer during the iPad boom, Dani has over a decade of experience transforming print publications into engaging digital products.
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.