Is Customer Enablement the Key to Publisher Renaissance?

By Subrata Mukherjee – VP of Product Management at The Economist and a speaker at our upcoming conference Subscribed (April 12-13, 2016 in San Francisco). Along with Neil Robinson, Digital Director at Time Inc, Mukherjee will address The Battle for Audience Attention: Lessons from the Publishing Industry.

It’s no longer just a question of competing with other publications, the publishing industry is also now competing with other media players such as Hulu, Youtube, Netflix and Spotify. Hear first-hand from these leaders on how they evolved into modern media companies. Learn about dynamic paywalls, bundles and other strategies to gain attention, build customer relationships and increase revenue in the next five years. 

Don’t miss this valuable session at Subscribed ‘16 – register today(Use the promo code: ZUORA200 and get $200 off!)

During the past two decades, evolution in Publishing was all about moving content from the letterpress to bits and bytes. We have seen content management systems come and go… dozens of apps being built and most major news publishing organization are probably in their double-digit redesign project since they started their digital channels. A proliferation of mobile platforms has caused an equal proliferation of apps – with its equal share of maintenance nightmares. Companies have merged and new titles have come under one umbrella to create bigger conglomerates which have resulted in platform issues that plague innovation. Last but not the least – Publishing has become a very price sensitive : the subscription business is very competitive and with the steady decline of advertisements free websites are feeling the pinch.

What a reader wants?
A modern day pool of readers needs content at their fingertips, equally and seamlessly across devices. They want content to find them based on their tastes and preferences. They are less privacy paranoid and are open to giving personal information if there is something in it for them. They want to keep an eye out on content that their personal and professional contacts are consuming. They are extremely value oriented – they will only pay for expensive subscriptions if they see a huge value in that content and they think they are getting a good value for money. They value luxury, niche offerings and like to be pampered and do not shy away from paying if they feel those practices enhance their self esteem and social standing.

And what do Advertisers want?
Enough is written on ad supported free access and so I won’t go there. I believe the digital advertising marketplace is also become very value conscious and more and more people are fighting for the same ad dollars. Advertisers can pay if they are absolutely confident of whom they are reaching out to and if those eyeballs are causing measurable engagement and specific call to action. A generic CPM carpet bombing approach is just very passé. More and more advertisers are moving to co-branded content, sponsorship of white glove services – all to attract the attention of their core demographics.

Where to invest?
With this gradual industry transformation – publishers are now stuck with old antiquated portfolio of software platforms and a mishmash of similar systems in their portfolio not compatible to each other. Publishers could continue to invest in consolidation projects, say to one CMS, or one responsive design app. But in the end it is not moving the needle forward for the customer and they are just tinkering with the edges.

So what would allow publishers to thrive in a value based content economy?
I believe it is in their Customer enablement and experience offerings. Traditionally, publishers have undermined the need for investing in customer acquisition, engagement and retention. They need to make big changes in their vision, team and processes and take bold steps in making itself a marketing organization rather than a creative organization. From a talent perspective they should invest in marketing oriented professionals and customer service talent from other industries.
They should invest in back end ecommerce, entitlement, data management, campaign management, social engagement, personalization and customer services platforms all connected to a central integration hub which will allow platforms and products to be added and removed from a best-of-breed stack.
A combination of fresh talent with modern digital stack is going to help them nudge their competition and become industry trend setters and not remain mere followers.

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