As publishing and media continue their digital transformation, more organisations are creating senior Product roles, sometimes bringing in expertise outside publishing. This emerging discipline has to work with editorial, marketing and commercial teams, and faces its own challenges.
For PPA, I facilitated a group discussion of Digital and Product Directors from consumer and B2B publishers. We gathered to explore common challenges in developing digital products and share current strategies to tackle them. It was all under Chatham house rules, but there were some consistent themes, summarised below.
If you are about to create a dedicated product role in your media or publishing business, then this could be an insight into what their priorities should be.
Digital Product challenges in Publishing and Media
1. Continual innovation
Digital products can’t stand still. Have to keep talking to end users to ensure that features provide value, using all opportunities to gather opinions, from online data to live events. Keep tweaking and adapting business model to generate revenues.
Prioritising tasks can feel like air traffic control. Aim to be data-driven but can feel subjective. Have to balance short term fixes with long term objectives. Keep sight of the purpose or North Star. Some have hired a product manager to help with priorities.
3. Change management
Digital development means changing workflow, especially for editorial teams, who can feel overwhelmed with the number of channels/ platforms to master to publish their content. Bringing the publishing teams with you on a project can be more challenging than convincing senior management to invest. Can be even harder for international teams with different culture/ working practices.
4. Print to digital transition
Takes time to convince print readers of the value of digital. Spiralling paper prices and squeezed consumer spending could accelerate print decline.
5. Advertising to reader revenue
Publishing business models are moving towards subscriptions. Growing interest in gathering first party data and digital content analytics to enhance ad targeting. Publishers may have to lead advertisers to new digital marketing formats. A single website may encompass a free ad-driven model and a premium subscription package.
6. Talent/ resource
Developer talent is scarce and expensive. Need to factor in availability of talent when making tech/ architecture choices. Focus on how to retain existing developer teams – eg through training and flexible working. Greater pressure on prioritisation of projects when resource is constrained.
7. Building a business case
Important to keep stakeholders on side while developing a business case for investment.
8. Digital agencies
Digital agencies are effective when building and launching – but can be less motivated to work on maintaining an existing product.
9. Tech selection/ AI
Hard to keep up with all the new vendors/ tech and work out exactly what is needed. Changing platform can be traumatic for teams – only do it if essential. AI is of limited value for creating editorial, but can help in complex systems e.g. offering tailored subscription packages to readers based on their behaviour.
Some publisher sites are still heavily reliant on google for traffic – or other social platforms. Continual task keeping up with changing algorithms (and Analytics iterations)
What information, advice and support Digital and Product Directors need?
- Best practice insights
- Real world supplier insights
- Info on new technology (eg AI)
- Intimate off the record discussions
- Online community and resources
An opportunity for collaboration?
Print publishers collaborated on newsstand wholesale distribution which benefitted the entire sector. Is there a way in which digital publishers can collaborate to provide better user experiences and options for advertisers?
A version of this article was previously published by PPA here, with details on how to find out more about future PPA Digital Collective meetups.
If you are planning to create a Digital Product role in your publishing or media business, do get in touch to discuss best practice.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has acquired, launched, built, and sold specialist media businesses in print, digital and events. She now advises niche consumer and B2B publishers on developing new products and digital revenue streams as a consultant and NED.