Four digital strategies publishers should pursue in 2012

It’s that time of the year. The time for top ten lists and predictions about the future. I’ll settle for four digital tips to help guide publishers’ digital strategies for 2012. One for each category: Revenue, Content, Design and Platform.

Revenue: Get serious about e-commerce

I’ve been advocating for quite some time that publishers should get serious about e-commerce, and with the rise of tablets, the opportunity is just getting bigger and bigger. E-commerce on mobile devices alone will top $6 billion in 2011 and is expected to reach $31 billion in 2016.

In particular, tablet owners seem excited about shopping directly from their devices. Even better, they want to shop from within publications. In “The Magazine Mobile Reader” report released by MPA a couple of months ago, 59% of respondents said they would like to buy directly from adverts in digital magazines and 79% said they want to be able to purchase products and services directly from editorial features.

eMediaVitals’ Rob O’Regan sees three ways for publishers to pursue e-commerce:

  1. Sell your own stuff
  2. Sell other brands’ stuff
  3. Recommend other brands’ stuff

Whatever the path, it’s time to take advantage of the relationship publishers have with readers and start selling.

Content: Figure out social reading

Here’s a quote you should pay attention to:

“Every industry, every type of business we think about needs to be fundamentally reinvented in the face of social. Social isn’t a type of layer you slap on after the fact—it needs to be part of the product at the point of inception.”

Not surprisingly, it came from Flipboard cofounder Evan Doll in a recent interview with Fast Company.

There are different ways to attack social (read more about Kobo’s approach here), but with Facebook’s recent introduction of its “Read. Watch. Listen.” concept, there’s a new play for publishers. Using Facebook’s Open Graph, launch partners such as Washington Post, The Daily and Wall Street Journal have created news apps that reside within Facebook. When users read articles, they are automatically shared with friends using ‘frictionless sharing’.

The opportunity is huge. The multiplier effect of users’ passive sharing of articles has propelled launch partners to millions of app users in just a couple of months.  Not only that, early feedback suggests that content is reaching an attractive segment of new and younger readers.

Some have grumbled that ‘frictionless sharing’ is less ideal. First of all, the sender of an article might not want to automatically share that he’s reading about Snooki’s latest shenanigans and his friends might not want to know. For publishers developing news apps, they must make it transparent and easy for users to either enable or disable the ‘frictionless sharing’ function.

Second of all and perhaps even more troubling, when friends click to read one of your shares, they are forced to authenticate with the news app (and thus give up personal information) to read the article. This setup creates friction and as a result, less people will end up engaging with news apps. Publishers and Facebook jointly need to work on solutions to allow for true frictionless sharing.

With that said, the opportunity seems to outweigh the limitations. In a world of many enemies eating away at your business, Facebook seems to be on publishers’ side.

Design: Redesign your site with HTML5 responsive design

I am a big proponent of creating a content experience that fits the platform. In particular, I have advocated for a unique “lean-back” experience designed specifically for tablets. I still whole-heartedly believe in that. This is the type of experience readers will see value in and potentially pay for.

At the same time, publishers have all this online content they are repurposing and optimizing for both mobile, tablet and desktop platforms. It’s a daunting technological challenge to develop for all platforms, especially in a fragmented mobile world.

Earlier this year, The Boston Globe solved the challenge with the launch of Using responsive design, the Globe’s content is automatically reformatted to fit any screen size.

ProPublica recently rolled our their new look, also using responsive design. They decidedly think mobile first, and unlike The Boston Globe, which has a half-dozen versions based on screen size, ProPublica only has two versions; mobile and desktop. Check out other examples of responsive design Web sites here.

By using responsive design, publishers can save precious development resources and they can create consistency across platforms.

Platform: Place a bet on Windows 8?

Who knows if Windows 8 will be a hit?  But lets agree that it’s an ambitious overhaul of the Windows operating system. With a start screen optimized for touch and with apps optimized for tablets, Microsoft is trying to bridge the gap between tablet and PC. As such, Windows 8 will run on both PCs, laptops and tablets. The beta release of Windows 8 is slated for late February while a general release could happen in October.

Let’s assume Microsoft gets the software right. Then there’s still the hardware to deal with. Samsung is lined up to release a Windows 8 tablet in the second half of 2012, but more exciting is the emergence of Ultrabooks. If you own a Macbook Air, you know what that means.

Ultrabooks are super thin, lightweight laptops running on solid-state disk drives rather than traditional hard drives, which allows them to be turned on almost instantly. They will undoubtedly be the talk of the town at the upcoming CES conference in Las Vegas in January.

Ultrabooks (and MacBook Airs) are starting to close the gap between tablet and laptop. We are definitely not there yet, but you can imagine a world where one device is powerful enough for your work needs yet light enough and touch enabled for your leisurely activities. When the gap is bridged, Microsoft is poised to reap the benefits. Publishers that get started early on Windows 8 will have a first-mover advantage.

There you have it. Four tips. What other strategies do you think publishers should pursue in 2012?


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