At the iStrategy conference on the 22nd of May, YUDU ran a workshop designed to explore participants’ expectations and beliefs about the outlook for the technology landscape over the next three years.
Each table of 6-10 people took on the role of the governing board of ‘VUDU Media’, to agree a medium-term strategy for the fictional digital publishing company. The conference participants were an eclectic cross-section of senior executives and analysts with an interest in the digital space, so brought a diverse and well-informed set of opinions and ideas to the discussion.
Here are some of the conclusions the groups reached.
Each group in the workshop considered which geographical markets they thought ‘VUDU Media’ should target. With a couple of exceptions, there was broad agreement on targeting the US and the UK as top priorities.
However, opinion was very divided on where else resources should be focused. China was a popular choice, with participants noting the huge potential but uncertain whether it justified the risk. Perhaps surprisingly, both Latin America and the Eurozone countries were more popular choices than India; although India’s advantages not only in terms of size but also due to its Commonwealth links to the UK were pointed out.
Paying for content
This caused much debate, with some attendees firmly of the view that content will inevitably become free, and others equally certain that paid content will dominate.
Some middle ground proposals suggested freemium content; or a blended approach where limited free content is used to spread brand awareness and establish a presence, but with monetisation achieved through solid quality paid-for content. This matches a model which we’ve observed working well for magazine titles, where the app and selected issues are free, but a regular subscription and other back issues require a purchase.
Fixed layout vs. reflowable
There was a strong consensus among participants that content is moving toward reflowable, flexible formats. Most digital magazines and catalogues currently use fixed layouts, and do so for compelling reasons: this allows much more control over presentation, and because it allows easy quick creation of digital replicas of print publications. Against that, reflowable content allows users much more control over how they view and consume the content.
Ultimately this comes down to whether users value that control more, or whether they value the extra slickness of a professionally designed layout; and that’s an empirical question that will be answered over time. So far users seem to favour replica layouts with simple enhancements; for reflowable to gain dominance may require new developments in the market, such as deeper integration between publications and social media platforms, or with content aggregation tools.
There was a strong but not unanimous preference for focusing on cross-platform solutions, with the main alternative choice being a mix of native iOS and cross-platform, or native iOS and native Android while ignoring other platforms.
As far as screen size is concerned, the much larger install base for smartphones versus the more pleasant reading experience provided by tablets returned a mixed verdict; the most common preference was to cater for both but giving tablets priority.
One table settled on a more unusual approach, to eschew apps entirely and focus exclusively on browser-based publications, for universal reach and to avoid entanglement in Apple’s and Google’s ecosystems.
Different groups settled on very varied choices of which sector to focus on. Several gave a big vote to the corporate sector as a potential market for digital publishing, with a quarter of the groups devoting an overall majority of resources to it. A related suggestion was the idea of focusing on technical manuals as a ideal match for the technology.
Beyond that most groups chose a strategy spanning a selection of two or three sectors, such as magazines, books and education.
Some other comments
Gathering a few other thoughts and ideas we overheard in discussions:
- Browser-based publications have the advantage in emerging markets due to greater accessibility. (I’d add that Android has good and increasing reach there too, thanks to the rise of smartphones.)
- Using a cross-platform solution to reach a larger market is the right approach even at the cost of some functionality.
- Digital books would be much more powerful with improved sharing options – in particular should allow social sharing throughout.
- Publishing platforms should use open architectures that allow third-party extensions, and tie into a wider ecosystem.
- Publications could be made to auto-update, for example with particular statistics and numbers within the text automatically refreshing to display up-to-the-minute information.
With many thanks to all those who participated – hope you found it interesting!
The report can also be read here.