Rock, Paper, Scissors, Tablet

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May 05, 2017

In case you hadn’t noticed, the digital era is here. And it has brought with it opportunities as well as complexities. At the first PubTech Connect, a day-long conference held at the NYU’s Kimmel Centre in New York City, the publishing world met the technological one – with a few new media agencies, academics and public service representatives thrown in for good measure. The hot topic was evolving business models in the digital era.

Firstly, publishers were encouraged to take risks and make mistakes. Yes really. J.P. Eggers, associate professor of management and organizations at NYU’s Stern School of Business, noted that: “Failure is central to innovation, [it] is common and instructive, whereas success can lead to judging results instead of the process.” So if more can be learned from what doesn’t work then what does, what else is different about a business model in the digital age?

In the talk entitled: ‘Reaching Your Next Audience’ the panel discussed how important age-range diversity is in today’s workforce. Not only do tech-savvy youngsters see opportunities in the technology that the generation above them don’t, but they also portray a more authentic voice when using it and are also seen (true or not) as less likely to misjudge its audience. Vice Media’s global head of content said it had learned from its mistakes with Snapchat and warned: “Don’t take your audience for granted. Learn what they care about. We had to find a form of storytelling geared to an audience that wants experience and authenticity.”

So the second important change to the business model in the digital age is the need to find employees who actually understand the digital age. It is an important point – especially as much of the business of promotion and creating a buzz around new work involves social media. Chantal Restivo-Alessi HarperCollins chief digital officer said “We need to put different skill sets with our traditional methods… different teams within the company that can work with each social media platform.” She suggested that  creating ‘messages’ from authors for YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms, was a great way to use budgets efficiently and effectively. It also showed that even traditional publishers can move with the times.

The final, significant change to the business model is assessing how to be more flexible with the product itself. In his talk, Kinsey Wilson, editor of innovation & strategy for the New York Times, said “Readers are inundated with information every hour of the day… and that needs to inform the way we present the news.” He noted that publishers can’t rely on traditional formats, they have to be prepared to try new things. “How people experience the New York Times, the quality of that experience, is just as important as our news report,” he said.

So, take risks, employ the younger generation to whom the technology and social media are second nature and change the way the work is presented. Publishers left PubTech Connect with an action plan – but not before a test: attendees were challenged to devise a publishing, marketing and retailing plan for an imaginary new book. The brainstorming suggestions ranged from self-publishing to digital book sales via Instagram and taking customer orders via texts from smartphones.

Yes the digital age is here and it seems that publishers are ready for it.

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