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Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

At the Guardian CMS 2011 few publishers confessed to knowing exactly how to extract money from users who interact with their digital content. Staffan Ekholm from Mag Plus, a company that turns magazines into iPad apps, claimed that Popular Science made $400k from their iPad app since launch a year ago. 10,000 downloads per edition. But how much does it cost to make?
Ekholm, proclaims that circa nine months on, the iPad has revolutionised how content is consumed. Paul Hayes managing director, commercial, News International, believes that the payment model is the right one for his brands and for the publishing industry in general. Paul Bascobert, President Bloomberg and Business Week is already charging for online premium content confortable in the knowledge that people ‘need’ his content.
“If your business is based on being first with the news” he said “then you need to have a production team based around fast turnaround of content.” Stevie Spring, CEO of Future Publishing, which produces titles such as gadget mag T3, thinks that single revenue business models won’t work. However, a mixed business model can work very well, she says. The cost of creating and distributing has to be met by user and and business revenues. She claimed that any publisher who doesn’t have a commercial imperative like the Guardian and the BBC distorts the marketplace. However, she noted, that no-one wants crap even if it’s free. Basic rules apply online as offline. People will pay for content that is good and convenient. Narrow and deep content can be charged at a premium.
Staffan thinks the iPad and tablets are the answer to the revenue nightmare facing publishers, “…because they create great publishing opportunities and the eco-sytem allows people to seamlessly purchase content”.
“Don’t judge what the iPad on today’s figures. This ecology will grow” he said.
Facebook’s Head of International Business Development Christian Hernandez said the things consumers care about is the birth of a friends child and news that affects them in a personal way. Facebook drives people to content in huge numbers in a personal emotional way. He defined basic news, like a news feed as a commodity, something that can be passed around without cost, but claimed that scoops and editorial know-how is an art that had a real value. Christian also believes that Facebook offers hundreds of datapoints about each individual and said “…you can sell more efficiently to people if you know more about them. Personalisation will be big”.
Paul Hayes picked up on Stevie Spring’s Guardian bashing theme by saying that the new Guardian app at £3.99 per annum was actually charging just a bit more than 1p a day. “The Guardian is worth more than that” he said hoping to encourage The Guardian to join the paywall party. Stevie Spring countered that Murdoch’s pay for content play is part of a bigger plan “he’s after bundling all content Sky, Fox and his newspapers as part of a bigger paid for content bundle”. Future Publishing have experimented with content atomisation. She believes that atomising elements of a publication, like the Guitar World ‘Lick of the Day’ app can deliver good revenue there is a known audience for it. At $4.99 for three month subscription it puts a spike into single issue sales she said. Another example she offered was gadget mag T3. Since the launch of the T3 app the global sales of the print version have gone up 10 fold. Also subs have gone up 50% since Future publishing went digital. Big numbers here! Does that mean that magazine publishers with some popular tittles can actually increase their revenue?
‘Digital’ is an old word that is not fit for purpose, says Paul Bascobert from Bloomberg/Business Week, we should be talking about distinct devices because they all have their benefits and uses.
Bascobert doesn’t just see paywalls as the only solution, he sees side doors and leaks to these walls and atomising of a brand can work like Guitar World Lick of the Day for example, of which he says, he’s a massive fan. He supported Stevie’s view by adding “Apps like this his can lead to engagement in the broader brand”.
“The huge opportunity in the app model is the availability of a global audience” said Spring.

Legally speaking, Graham Hann from media law firm, Taylor Hessing worries about the new rules for IP to be announced by the government in May. Content is available globally and the law has been left behind. How can you protect your copyright and pursue those who break the copyright agreement. Stevie Spring doesn’t worry so much about the text being copied from a publication, she is concerned more with the packaging. If the design and text is ripped off and Google ads are served on the site then this is wrong – her content subverted to create revenue for someone else “help me Mr Google on this…”
Christian Hernandez highlighted the thousands of conversations about content and media brands that take place on Facebook about content every day.  “There is a conversation going on around your content. How do you curate these conversations with say, taking the millions of comments about The X-Factor on Facebook and adding a post show Q and A with Simon Cowell?

Do old print publishers iterate quickly enough in an online instantaneous world? Stevie’s TechRadar  http://www.techradar.com/ does just that. Stevie says she has had to redesign all of her publishing protocols and processes to keep in step with online consumption. The ‘publish monthly’ model for magazines is only one of the ways of producing the same content.

On the subject of privacy and pushed content, Christian says that every single user at FB is asked who they want to share their data with; the user has control. And using Facebook can have advantages for media organisations. CNN found an FB user in Haiti during the quake with her location status on and she became their person on the ground for their news reports. Hernandez confessed that Facebook was too busy trying to figure out its own revenue models to worry about how to charge media organisations for access to their users.

A final combative word from Paul Hayes about users resistance to paywalls around Murdoch’s newspapers. “You resent me charging you for news and I resent you expecting it to be free. You don’t go to Tesco’s and expect the food to be free at the checkout?”

Will Paul Hayes eat his words? Only if someone’s paid for them.

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