The world’s fascination with information and the “need to know” inspired the birth of the publishing industry and remains at the heart of it today. That part hasn’t changed, but just about everything else from the type of news and information we want, to when, where and how we want it delivered has evolved dramatically. The work of countless innovators and technology leaders has repaved the information superhighway — giving the publishing industry the ride of its life.

Today’s publishers are in the midst of a journey that involves experimenting with the best ways to reach and grow their audiences. Like most journeys, this one has its fair share of smooth stretches, sharp turns and bumps here and there, but the view is spectacular. Of course, they have the added complication of journeying in a time of rapid technological change that’s causing massive disruption. What works one day, may not work the next and vice versa, so continued experimentation is needed and some may bear repeating.   

Publishers Must Experiment

This may be the case for publishers like Postmedia Network Canada Corp., who pulled the plug on the tablet editions it launched for The Ottawa Citizen, The Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald. In a recent article by Mario Garcia, of Garcia Media, he suggests that we shouldn’t give up on tablets just yet. “I still believe in the tablet,” said Garcia. “The tablet has a place (so does print by the way) and it is in the process of assigning value and potential utilization of each platform that constitutes one of the industry’s most puzzling and challenging tasks.”  

Tablets burst onto the digital media scene in 2010, with the launch of the iPad and a number of other similar devices. It was the hottest thing on store shelves and publishers hoped it would be the answer to monetizing digital media. For a while it seemed like it might be, but consumers were experimenting too and not really sure what they wanted from this device, or from the many others hitting the market as the mobile revolution took hold.  

As publishers began to get their arms around mobile, they realized that a comprehensive strategy was needed– one that would outline how best to use platforms like tablets, for advertising, editorial and growing readership. “I would say that this is where many publishers still are, finding their way, trying to adapt to how their specific publications fit into their audience’s expectations for a tablet edition,” said Garcia. The same is true for mobile apps, smartphones, wearables and the seemingly endless number of mobile devices, operating systems and platforms in use today.  

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A Customer-Centric Focus for Media Companies

In a study published by the Journal of Magazine & New Media Research, Eric John, Vice President of Digital Services for the Alliance for Audited Media said, “Media companies know that delivering content whenever and wherever consumers want is key. They know digital content, including browser-based-editions and mobile apps, is no longer the wave of the future, but table stakes to continue reaching and growing digital readership.” The answer to what to give to whom, when and how, lies in knowing your audience and meeting their needs in a way that also provides a return on investment.

For some audiences, that means mobile apps. For others, it means social media, wearables and even virtual reality. Still others, will continue to prefer newsprint and glossy magazines. The only thing that’s certain is that no one-size-fits-all solution exists. The consumers we serve are as varied as the devices and platforms we use to reach them – and both will continue to change.     

A study by two Drake University professors, Jeff Inman and Jill Van Wyke, suggests that publishers should continue to experiment, even as they wrestle with the proliferation of devices and operating systems; audience adoption; advertiser acceptance; and standardization. What next for tablets? The consensus is that while they haven’t revolutionized the industry just yet, they still could.  Only time – and experimentation — will tell.  


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