ABC 2010: It’s digital first for print

The prevailing talk at the 96th annual Audit Bureau of Circulations conference, which took place in Toronto, called for publishers to change the way they operate to survive in an increasingly digital world.

There was one prevailing point of note at the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ 96th conference and annual meeting at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto yesterday morning: the digital world is here and publishers have to change the way they do business if they are to survive.

The necessity for digital-first thinking in the industry was summed up well by the day’s first keynote speaker, Paul Godfrey, president and CEO, Postmedia Network, who underscored the notion by pointing out that it’s widely known that digital advertising will surpass newspaper advertising this year in total dollars spent.

He also noted that at Postmedia the path to digital is a primary focus and the major advantage that publishers have in the e-realm is that they are ‘the kings of content.’ He predicted that in four to five years Postmedia will have two major divisions, one for content and one for sales and marketing, which will allow the company to focus on the things it does best while outsourcing the rest.

What they have to do, said Godfrey, is build on their foundation as accurate, reliable and credible sources of news and information by creating compelling, engaging content with which they can establish themselves on mobile devices.

‘If you supply hyper-local content in your communities, there’s no doubt in my mind that with compelling content engaging your audiences, advertisers will follow that to whatever platform you’re on,’ he said. ‘You have to be in that business. People will advertise on that and expect you to be there. If you’re not there you won’t succeed.’

He did note, however, that the newspaper business is strong: ‘We’ve survived before, we’ll survive again.’

Godfrey was followed up by the second keynote speaker of the day, Matt Freeman, CEO, MediaBrands Ventures, who talked about how the rise of digital media has created a business issue between publishers and marketers in that it’s pushed them farther apart.

‘Increasingly, there’s a disconnect between what marketers want to buy and what publishers are selling,’ said Freeman.

Examples he cited include publishers selling impressions while marketers want outcomes; publishers valuing inventory while marketers perceive infinite inventory; publishers valuing content while marketers increasingly value audiences; publishers wanting partnerships while marketers seek intermediaries.

In the end, he proposed that rather than simply minding the gap, they all aim to mend it, noting that there needs to be an industry standard for marketing and media systems that align metrics and integrated data. For his part, he said, his company is in the process of working with Microsoft to create a new operating system for media to standardize middleware.

The next session focused on one of the digital platforms that is increasingly forcing and facilitating evolution in the publishing industry. Led by Ted Boyd, CEO, 58Ninety, it was a panel focusing on the challenges and opportunities of e-reader platforms, like the iPad, and apps.

The panel of digital media gurus included: Kim Machado, director and group manager, digital consumer publishing division, Rogers Media; Gilad Coppersmith, managing director, digital and emerging media, OMD; Anthony Novac, CEO, co-founder, Spreed; Veronica Holmes, president, Zed Digital, ZenithOptimedia; Andrew Saunders, VP, advertising sales, the Globe and Mail; and Michael Tamblyn, executive VP, content, sales and marketing, Kobo.

A shared sentiment between the panelists was that the e-reader is reinventing the publishing industry, requiring publishers to change the way they think, particularly about how they approach the market – by focusing on digital replicas or utility-based apps – said Machado. Coppersmith added that the devices also constitute a game-changer from an advertising perspective, pointing out that the experience they provide is far richer and more diverse than print and even web-based platforms, but advertisers are hesitant to jump into the space, having adopted a wait-and-see approach until they know how effectively the devices can be measured.

The notion of standardized metrics, which Freeman addressed during his keynote, was echoed when the conversation turned to audience measurement.
Holmes noted that publishers and advertisers will need to work together to develop a universal measuring stick for success given the many variables in interactive media like the e-reader.

A better understanding of how they’re physically used is needed, she said, especially given that they are often shared, for example, between family members. Novac added that there is also interconnectivity between platforms, citing his company’s experience as the Globe and Mail‘s app partner – people read their iPads in the morning and evening and check their smart iPhones during the day – opening the door, noted Coppersmith, for content to be produced for specific devices that is targeted to the time and location it’s being consumed.

‘When you get down to that level of granularity you can start to see the CPMs rise,’ said Novac.

Boyd concluded the panel by asking each member about their predictions for the future of the e-reader.

Tamblyn predicted that readers will ultimately shift completely to digital consumption, as opposed to print, based on the immediacy offered, though Saunders countered that, at least, for the medium term, there is still a strong value proposition for newspapers.

Getting back to measurement, Holmes stated the need to measure share of attention by device for people who are serial multi-taskers, while Novac foresaw that metrics will likely dominate discussions about the platform next year.

Coppersmith pontificated on the opportunities and experiences that will be available based on the creativity they provide and Machado added that the way we consume published content on the devices will only get better and better, bringing it to life while attaching a community component.