The borderless world – and what it means to publishers

Media has always been national.  The limitations of print production and physical distribution, state control of TV and language and cultural boundaries have meant each national media landscape evolved separately.  But with the relentless growth of internet connections and ability to access information instantly, globally, even bypassing state controls, the media world is becoming borderless.  So what does this mean for publishers?

Listening to a presentation by the head of Google in Spain last week, I realised just how borderless digital media is becoming.  Right now there are 2.2 billion people worldwide with internet connections; in just four years this is expected to grow to 5 billion.  And as the cost of storage plummets and the volume of information available explodes, each and every one of them will be able to access a world of knowledge in an instant.  The volume of data is expected to grow from 200 exabytes to 53 zettabytes by 2016 (and that is over 250 times as much as today – a zettabyte is 10 followed by 24 zeroes).  The other big story is the growth in mobile devices which will double by 2016.

So anyone, anywhere, can access a world of knowledge, in an instant.  The device itself doesn’t need to be that sophisticated, as it can simply look up what it needs on the web.  A driverless car that can check real-time traffic data and choose the perfect route is already being tested in the US, and it always beats the human driver.

Now when this much content is available everywhere on demand, what does this mean for nationally-bounded media businesses?  At one level it feels like a threat, but equally quality content, particularly when it isn’t specific to one nation, can now find a much wider global audience without the costs of physical distribution.  Niche publisher Future has already discovered that 80% of their mobile magazines are sold outside the UK.  And that is without translation from English.

And that raises another question: what about the language barrier?  Translation costs have always been a problem for UK-based publishers wanting to reach new European, Latin American or Asian markets.  In specialist or technical markets, automatic translation isn’t yet quite good enough; a human translator is required and that adds cost.

Zapatero from Google showed how phones now have near-instant translation – a user speaks in one language, the phone looks up a translation database online and converts it to another language instantly.  Now the quality may not yet be good enough for a technical text, but perhaps, as the connections continue to grow, it will come.  And then the media world will truly be borderless.

Another major trend that the expansion in mobile devices will fuel is the growth of e-commerce. This is currently growing at over 30% pa, and as retailers work out how to use location to send specific promotions to consumers who can take action instantly, the time gap between a consumer desiring a product and purchasing it is going to become far shorter.  In the era of instant gratification, customers are going to become even more demanding and impatient.

So publishers would do well to start planning how they can distribute their quality content digitally to this global, mobile audience, start to automate translation, and establish a price that reflects its value.  Maybe you feel your national print market is well protected, but there’s always a risk that your international counterparts are already experimenting and will reach these new customers first.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan works with niche publishers to develop practical digital strategies.  She regularly speaks and writes on digital publishing strategy, programmes the Specialist Media Conference and moderates the Specialist Media Network on LinkedIn, where over 1200 niche publishers swap ideas and network.  If you’d like a no obligation discussion about your digital publishing strategy, please get in touch.