Nov 01, 2010

Publishing, Broadcast, and Digital Convergence: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Heading

Rajan Dev's picture
Rajan Dev

Co-authored by: Rajan Dev & Oscar Villalon

Over the past 35 years or so, the world of publishing has become an increasingly digital domain. What that’s meant is we have essentially gone from a system dependent on an expensive distribution and publishing infrastructure—one in which content of all sorts had to be pressed or printed into a physical object before it could reach its audience—to one where content, in its digital form, can be distributed much faster and much cheaper than ever before. Understanding and capitalizing on this seismic shift will be key to the success of any company “publishing” media in digital form. We’ve had the amazing opportunity at Hot to work with several clients who are, in effect, publishers. With all the research and collaboration we’ve done with companies ranging from Blurb and MarketWatch to Warner Music Group and Zinio, we’ve developed a set of instructive insights about the future of digital publishing. In future newsletters we’ll examine in detail these learnings. But before we do, an introductory overview. We first have to look at which industries should now look at themselves as publishers and look at what going digital has done to the publishing process.

Publishing Doesn’t Apply Solely to Print

When we talk about publishing, we still mostly think about producers of magazines and daily newspapers and books. The reasons are obvious. For centuries, the term was applied exclusively to the world of print. Also, the conversation about digital publishing has revolved mostly around how those three media have been weathering the transition. But when you think about it, it’s clear that other content-delivery industries have always acted like publishers. The entertainment industry—music and movies—delivered their content through cassettes, reels, and DVDs, which had to be produced and distributed. Same goes with video games. Distribution and manufacturing were done on a different schedule and encompassed different “middle men,” but it was essentially publishing. If the similarities weren’t clear in 1985, they certainly are today. Digital publishing has framed within the same parameters the production and distribution of all that various content from long-established media. New media, such as software and applications, must also take into account this new framework.

Converging Processes and Distribution

In our experience working with what could be described as “inadvertent publishers,” we found they all had to contend with the same concerns regarding the digital creation and distribution of their content. These are:

  • Time & frequency: There are few mechanical and physical restrictions to when and how often content is published. The question now is, what’s the right frequency? Hourly? Daily? Weekly?
  • Authoring: Somebody still has to create and curate the content. Given how much competing content is out there, quality is more important than ever.
  • Distribution: How to best deliver your content across distribution platforms and a plethora of devices. Depending, each device—tablet, laptop, or smart phone—has its unique strengths and contextual use
  • Monetization: What’s the business strategy behind all of this? How, for example, will ads be attracted, and how will they pay?
  • Content form (interaction): How will the content take advantage of the interactivity offered by digital devices and platforms?
  • Connectedness: How will the content reinforce what is perhaps the greatest strength of instantaneous delivery to anybody, anywhere—the sense that we are within easy reach of each other?
  • User experience: In the past, these traditional publishers knew how to create the best experience for their users, whether they were flipping through a magazine or taking in a movie at a theater. But how will they deliver a superior experience on various devices?

Hot Convergence

A Quick Timeline of Technology

The above concerns about distribution and content creation have been long in the making. As early as the mid-‘70s, the question of time and frequency was coming into play. Newspapers were switching to digital type. This meant that stories could be produced and printed faster, hitting the streets at earlier and varying hours. When a major story broke, more than one edition could be produced and distributed in the same day, for example. Then there was the advent of desktop publishing in the mid-‘80s, which blew the doors open on who could produce a periodical. Software and hardware made it relatively affordable to create your own magazine or newsletter. And by the early ‘90s, content could be produced and distributed on CD-ROM, which could hold vast volumes on a single disk. Archives and reference works could now be cheaply updated and sold for much less than their print versions. However, this work would be read on computers, so that created new user experience challenges. Then, of course, the biggest technology of them all: the Internet. It would be an understatement to say that production and distribution costs—not to mention a user’s sense of connectedness to the content—were greatly affected by the Web. So was the business model for sustaining content. Web 2.0 further expanded upon these challenges with the rich possibilities of user-generated content. Then came smart phones, epitomized by the iPhone in 2007. These ever-popular devices created an exciting platform for content—everything from games and music to video and text.

What’s next?

And this year, we’ve seen yet another game-changing technology: the iPad. With the iPad comes a tide of other tablet devices that will further expand the realm for content to exist, with especially profound implications for publishers of all media types. It’s the blockbuster arrival of the tablet that got us thinking about the future of publishing. It has been an incredible catalyst, exciting consumers and providing new opportunities for publishers of every type of media. We’ll talk about the finer points of that future in our next newsletter.

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