Sunday, June 26, 2005

SIIA Brown Bag - Three Perspectives on Growing the Top Line: Repurposing of Assets Comes of Age

It's nice to hear Shore's themes being echoed in so many venues these days. Last week's SIIA Brown Bag panel in New York City focused on one such theme, the push for repurposing content assets for top line growth (see Patricia Joseph's report on the same topic). Hal Espo, President of Contextual Connections, LLC chaired a panel including Paige Amidon, General Manager for Market & Product Development at Consumer Reports, Victoria Cho Pao, newly appointed President of McGraw-Hills's Platts division (coming from McGraw-Hill Construction) and Joel Poznansky, President of Apex CoVantage Publishing Solutions.

From a consumer perspective Paige Amidon related the successes of Consumer Reports in creating new online services and print titles without using ads (CR is a non-profit), which places the emphasis on enhancing premium print titles and online services. CR does quite a bit of both, but the key from their perspective is having gone to an "electronic-first" content production model. This allows them to develop repurposing for content quickly and flexibly in both print and online media with special buyers' issues and focused online offerings with ever-deeper content in areas of high interest. While there were worries about how such an aggressive online content program would hurt revenues, but with a brand that is "better than the Pope", according to recent research, Consumer Reports has actually been able to raise subscription prices for its online content. The lesson from a CR perspective is to build rich packages of content through repurposing that are well targeted to the here-and-now interests of audiences and to build interactive capabilities considered essential by younger audiences.

Victoria Cho Pao focused primarily on her experience at McGraw-Hill Construction rather than her new assignment at Platts, where embedding value-add content into clients' professional workflows has yielded strong results for both ad-based content (more and more valuable pages of content) and subscription services. Using integrated solutions to provide repurposed content is not just about providing multiple sources in a common interface - an approach that is likely to promote discounting, as many aggregators know all too well these days. Rather the emphasis in providing workflow solutions needs to be on senior executives who care about the value of solutions and with a product pricing structure that is built from the ground up with repurposing in mind. All of this places a challenge on the editorial and marketing components of a publisher's organization, oftentimes requiring new skill sets in both areas to understand the kinds of content that are going to meet the value-add needs of specific markets and clients. It's important to avoid confusing the client in the sales process with too many options: sometimes repurposing is all about making things simpler, not more complex, connecting key sources of content in the most strategic way possible.

From the perspective of an electronic publishing solutions provider Joel Poznansky sees repurposing as nothing new in and of itself but with electronic content creation and distribution tools its acceleration is the key issue as more content than ever can be broken into small, discrete packages for targeted consumption. In his mind search engines are making the difference in the need to have repurposed content noticed in more contexts, requiring more work with metadata and indexing to have its attributes fully understood. The emotional attachment that many publishers have to established print titles and production methods seems to slow down the migration to electronic publishing that facilitates repurposing, Joel notes, but once through the change there's more likely to be a common vision for both print and online products that will inevitably change how information is designed. In the print world Joel notes that the finiteness of the printed page creates an attitude towards information design that is not easily parralelled in the relatively infinite display capabilities of online information. So repurposing from one medium to another requires not just a migration of information but a reassessment of how the quality of the product will be perceived in two fundamentally different media.

It's difficult to encapsulate what turned out to be a very insightful and spirited discussion of content production in the era of repurposing, but the upshot of all this is that repurposing is more than ever at the heart of the publishing industry. It may take the form of new media, new audiences, new formats or new features, but the ability to use online publishing technology to obtain insights into user needs and to turn around new presentations of information to fill those needs very quickly is a necessity for profitable publishing. Getting content into the context that matters most for audiences at the right place at the right time means far more emphasis on deep insights into user behavior and having the right technology and product focus to turn around those insights into targeted and saleable content. The good news is that it can mean a more effective capability for print profits as well as online, a factor that's not lost hopefully on those slow to turn to new production processes. Another highly valuable brown bag lunch with thought leaders who know how to deliver the goods.
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