Digital Directions: Are You Putting the Wrong Product in the Wrong Medium?
Every medium possesses a unique set of characteristics. While this statement sounds self-evident at face value, the failure to understand and exploit the attributes of each medium often results in strategic missteps for publishers. The result: product failure from putting the wrong product in the wrong medium, or missed opportunities for product value creation.
Three media that we are all grappling with—print, Web and mobile—have important distinctions.
Print is a display technology—and a darned good one! Ink on paper will endure well into the digital age because of some attractive characteristics:
1. Physical. Printed matter is a physical object. Physical presence can be a great mechanism for discovery, for both active as well as passive seekers.
2. Portable. Most printed matter can be physically moved from place to place. It’s mobile!
3. Transferable. Since it is a physical, portable object, it easily can be transferred from person to person. No log-in required.
4. Reflected medium. Light bounces off the page to your eyes, not like the transmitted image of the screen. For most, this results in the most comfortable reading experience.
5. Self-contained. Printed content requires no device for playback, nor does it require a power supply.
6. High resolution. Print is hi-res? Let’s see: A two-page spread in a 15-inch by 12-inch photography book (30 inches by 12 inches total) at 300 dpi is 32 megapixels. The San Francisco Chronicle is now a 22-inch by 21-inch broadsheet at 240 dpi, or 27 megapixels. The resolution of high-definition video is just 2 megapixels.
7. Variable form factor. Within relatively wide technical and financial limitations, you can print at variable sizes. Very large print formats can be great for scanning wide arrays of content.
At what point will we start referring to digital content delivery over the Web as traditional? Perhaps soon. At any rate, some of its key attributes include:
1. Dynamic. Web-delivered content is essentially instantaneous and can be continually updated.
2. Two-way (many-to-many). Content flows both upstream and downstream. This attribute, combined with dynamic delivery, has enabled social media, in which readers can interact with content (via comments) and with each other (via discussions), participating in real time.
3. Medium resolution and form factor. Standard screen resolutions of 2 or 3 megapixels is unimpressive when compared to good-quality print, but it sure beats the mobile phone. Laptops and cellular modems have made the traditional Web more portable, though not mobile in the truest sense.
4. Transaction-enabled. Audiences can respond to media and generate an event that may be tied to a revenue event by clicking on an ad or buying a product—including additional content.
5. Personalized. Delivering content through a network of interoperating computers allows for selective content delivery based upon the receiver’s profile. This can increase relevance and, therefore, engagement. However, on the flip side of personalization are the concerns that many have about privacy on the Web.
The mobile device, like the Web, is another digital channel, and shares many of the same key characteristics of the traditional Web, such as two-way, dynamic content delivery. However, mobile is not just the latest, smallest Web browser. Mobile constitutes a new medium as different from the traditional Web as the traditional Web is from print.
1. Mobile. (Doh!) Having a media device virtually attached to a consumer’s hip is a great way to become indispensable. The mobile device entwines itself into our lives more powerfully than the browser ever did.
2. Highly transaction-enabled. A mobile phone device is tied to an account that is explicitly and almost immutably associated with an individual. This account is, in turn, connected to a billing mechanism via a service provider, such as a carrier. This makes transactions more seamless and possibly more secure than Web-based transactions.
3. Location-aware. This is a big one. The mobile device knows where you are, which could add real value to content. Instead of madly flipping through Zagat on a rainy night in Cleveland, a mobile restaurant guide could present those restaurants that are closest to you. Same content. Better way to get it.
4. Camera-enabled. The fact that the mobile device contains a remarkably good camera has not been fully exploited. Social media applications that can intelligently organize mobile imagery have the potential of creating significant value far beyond the entertainment value of Flickr.
5. Lower resolution. The iPhone display is beautiful, but it is about 1/8 of a megapixel. Hey, you can’t have everything.
Products That Span All Media
Publishing models fail when a product is put into a medium for which it is not best suited. For example, newspaper classifieds collapsed because print lacked the ability for individuals to post and edit their own ads. Enter the two-way, instantaneous Web and Craigslist.
Perishable content that needs to be continually revised and reprinted has a reduced window in which to amortize production costs. Such content is more economically feasible when supported digitally.
Nonperishable content in which reading comfort, portability and transferability are valued—such as novels—are likely best delivered in traditional print. By the way, if all books were electronic, how would we give them as gifts? Gift certificates via e-mail? Yuck.
The most exciting opportunities available to us as content creators and distributors are in envisioning product models that span media, in which each component of the product uses the unique attributes of each medium. Some possible opportunities:
• A travel offering in which a visually rich, introductory print component was bundled with a location-aware travel guide and a Web-based travel community site.
• A higher-education offering in which content that is less perishable (the core textbook) is printed traditionally, and content that needs frequent updating is delivered as online ancillaries. This would allow more time between editions of the core text in which to more easily recoup development costs.
Organizations often relegate digital initiatives into relatively isolated departments, such as a silo for Web marketing or a silo for digital distribution, without impacting the traditional publishing activity—making books. However, real product value and strategic advantage can be found when the intrinsic characteristics of digital media inform fundamental product strategy.
Andrew Brenneman is founder and president of Finitiv, a provider of digital content solutions. He has been leading digital media initiatives at major media and technology organizations for more than 20 years. Contact him at Andrew@Finitiv.com.