The Roundtable Participants
- Scott Karp, editor, Publishing 2.0
- Paul Gerbino, Director of ThomasNet
- Keith Huryk, Director of Production and Prepress, Wicks Business Information
- John Jainschigg, Director, online technology and new business software, CMP Technology
- Linda McCutcheon, Senior Vice President New Media, Nielsen Business Media
- Jim Delahanty, Director of Production, Digital Ad Services, BusinessWeek
- Chris Johnson, Content Director, Hearst Digital
- Rick Treese, Chief Technology Officer, Advanstar
- Doug Harbrecht, Director of New Media, The Kiplinger Organization
Folio: Let’s start with a very broad question. I want to have each of you talk about the technologies that have had the most impact on your jobs and in your companies over the past year.
Paul Gerbino: We launched RSS feeds three years ago, but over this past year, I think RSS has had the biggest impact on our business in terms of traffic. About 15 to 17 percent of our page views are coming off of our RSS feeds. People are actually using the RSS feeds. The changes that we’ve gone through in terms of delivering advertising on the RSS and the way we’re approaching RSS has really changed the way we are looking at our business.
Linda McCutcheon: RSS, mobile, podcasts, Webinars.
Doug Harbrecht: I would say RSS, which is surprising for Kiplinger, because we tend to have an older audience. But, what we’ve found is a sophisticated investor crowd that gets RSS. The other thing we found, too, was a lot of people using RSS through My Yahoo. What we’re doing now is leveraging that in order to get into community chat rooms and into places like Digg and del.icio.us, and hopefully where people will say, ‘Hey did you read this great article from Kiplinger?’ We’re getting a tremendous amount of traffic off of that kind of dynamic.
Chris Johnson: Same for us. I think social-media distribution and particularly Digg and del.icio.us, have really changed the way that we think about distributing our content. Previously, it was always portal relationships and syndication deals. Now simply adding an ad to Digg, an ad to del.icio.us and a button to a page on one of our sites drove about 30 percent of our page view growth right after we launched it earlier this year.
Rick Treese: I think for us it’s more of a holistic thing. It’s the attitude of vendors that it’s not just their sandbox anymore. They need to learn to communicate with other systems. They need to make their technologies open. They need to make Web services available. They need to be able have technologies that are callable from other Web pages, for example. That what’s really changed what we do.
Scott Karp: I think free blogging software, or virtually free blogging software, has really revolutionized the industry. I can publish my blog for free and do what most publishers did five years ago with $10 million content-management systems and have the same distribution. I also think search technology, generally on the end of Google rather than on the publishers’ end, has dramatically changed things. But understanding search-engine optimization, optimizing for that technology and understanding how to create content for that technology, has really changed things.
Johnson: Three years ago I was working at a portal site and it took us about a year to put a new content-management system in place. A year ago, I was working at a different site and it took about six months. We put an entirely new open-source system in place this year in less than 90 days. That says a couple of things. One is that the influence of blogging software is finding its way back into the enterprise, and the simplicity of blogging software is illustrating to people you can do a lot with a simple set of tools.
The Impact of Edit Talent
Karp: With a simple set of tools and really smart editorial talent you can launch a publication. The Atlantic is launching a series of daily blogs. They’ve taken talent from one of their political publications and just on that writer’s back with moveable type they’ve got a new publication. Compare that to how it used to be, where it took a year and lots of staff and millions of dollars to launch.
McCutcheon: Well, that’s the uncontrolled variable, isn’t it, what the editors do with all this stuff. Because you can have a great tool set and your CMS in 90 days, but unless you have editors who see the possibilities of this beyond flipping through a magazine, then they’re the main factor. I’ve found that the editors in my shop still often have trepidations about pushing the envelope for this stuff. Who would have thought five years ago that editors who had digital DNA would be just as important as free blogging software?
Gerbino: I think one of the best things we did six years ago was eliminate Microsoft Word. We launched our content-management system because all our writers were freelancers in many different locations, and we needed to really get them using one tool set. Editors were part of the development team as we started building our content-management system. We started launching blogs about two and a half years ago and so we moved into movable type. For them, it was a very easy migration because they were already working with the tool sets. If you get your editors off of Microsoft Word, it will be one of the best things you could ever do.
The Critical Skillsets
Folio: What sort of skillsets are you looking for in each discipline, not just editorial, but production, ad sales, etc., as you start to embrace these types of technologies? What has changed as far as the people you are looking to employ now? What do your existing employees need to keep pace?
Gerbino: It’s a lot of the same talents that we’ve looked for in ad production people and writers and the like. It’s the ability to work at a pace that is a lot faster than they’ve ever worked before. Going from weekly or monthly to literally daily. We have daily news, and that was a big transition for us.
McCutcheon: I’m not so worried about the technical skillset because we can teach that. And frankly, I don’t pay too much attention to what application they put on their resume because in six months that will probably be outdated. I’m worried about the insatiable curiosity that people have to have about what’s over the next hill.
Jim Delahanty: The curiosity I agree with 100 percent. I’m on the print side, and the goals we have for our group are creativity and innovation. The question I ask them all the time is, ‘Should we be doing something differently now than we did, say, six to 12 months ago?’ We’re very focused in processes and procedures, and we redefine them. Our customers are our sales team, our sales support, and people off-site at ad agencies. What kind of value as a production director am I going to give to them? What kind of tools can I give to them?
Gerbino: In February 2006 we published our last Thomas Register print edition. We are now completely online. It was a profitable piece of our business but we realized we had to make the transition to change the perception of us as an old-style company to an online company. One of the challenges we had was what to do with the production department. Part of our business model is we help companies build Web sites. We were able to keep a very high percentage of our print and production people who used to create these pages in the 35 volumes of directories, who are now doing Web sites. You can train the skillsets. The choice now is whether you want to do it.
McCutcheon: Isn’t one of our greatest challenges finding those right people? I came into my office the other morning and someone had taped on my door a page from the New York Post classifieds. ‘Wanted, Web production and designers for the Post. Shift: 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.’ These guys are working 24/7. They have a three-shift production and design group for Web. It just is a barometer of how important this stuff is.
Gerbino: The promise of this technology was reduce our staff size and be more efficient, but we’re at least as big if not bigger than we were when we were in print. The workload has increased. The pace has changed. Now you need a 24/7 newspaper editorial and Web operation because you’ve got to put the story up.
Keith Huryk: You’re allowed to have that superstar work from any location. You don’t have to have them in the office anymore for that 24/7. There’s a new model of employee; someone who’s in the office for their eight-hour shift or 12-hour shift depending on how hard you crack the whip, but now they take that job home. And when the crisis comes or the new ad comes in or the new content flows in, a breaking story, they can get it done from wherever they are.
Defining the Online Mission
Harbrecht: The siren call of the Internet is to go off in lots of different directions. Sites that might have traditionally been into very high quality content are suddenly chasing news. Big mistake. What we really want editorially are people who know how to think about what it is that we cover in a way that projects excellence about the site. That’s very important as opposed to everybody running off and trying to get the news. If we have something important or significant to say about a subject we will cover it. If we don’t, we just let it go.
McCutcheon: I would much prefer that readers find information and news from our sites than from the Reuters feed on Yahoo.
Karp: The other thing about news is the transition from news to analysis has become very iterative. What you see at the extreme of the blogosphere is something will happen and people will post an analysis in five minutes and then they’ll think it through or someone will point out the comment and say, ‘You know, you’re actually wrong about this’ and they’ll write and update and say, ‘Well I found out this and I realized I was wrong.’ That is sort of anathema to the traditional editorial process;we don’t print something until we absolutely know it’s correct and it’s been copyedited. But what if we put out something that’s wrong? Well, if your audience is checking back on RSS constantly, then you can be pretty sure they will see your updates and iterations and corrections. That puts you in a different relationship with the audience than if you just publish something monthly and have one chance to get it right.
Treese: I think that the big challenge is something I heard recently. Most people get their news online, and they’re doing this on a regular basis, but don’t actually remember where they got it from. I think the statistic was something like 60 percent of people don’t know and don’t care. So really how do you tap into that?
McCutcheon: The sad fact is news is a commodity. Wired.com relaunches, and issues a mission statement that says, ‘We recognize that blog and user-generated content are a legitimate form of journalism.’ Ouch.
Harbrecht: What BusinessWeek has done very well is take its most seasoned, most talented people, people who understand libel law and privacy law, and have them blog about it. So that when you have a big breaking story on whatever the subject is you can turn to people like this and you can say, ‘Okay, give me four or five insights here.’ And we would say, ‘Okay, why don’t you write about that in your blog? And why don’t we develop that as analysis for tomorrow? And why don’t we do a longer piece on that the following day? In the meantime, let’s get a discussion going on your blog.’ You’re creating value at every step of the process.
Treese: Given all that, none of us work for charities. How do you avoid people making comments about advertisers that pay money to appear on your site, maybe on the same page where someone insults them?
Karp: FeedBurner, which just got acquired by Google, actually introduced something a couple of weeks ago called AdClimate which is just available for feeds, but it actually lets you put in keywords that can be filtered out. So if Lexus is your advertiser you can filter out any content that comes to the feed that has ‘Lexus sucks’ or things like that.
Treese: But are you damaging the message? Maybe there’s a valid point in the criticism.
Delahanty: On the print side, it’s very critical where advertisers are placed and there are issues of competitive separation and placement next to a negative story somewhere. Online, it’s amazing how it’s different. I get the impression that it’s not that important. That, if there is a problem, it gets fixed right away where in print it’s done, it’s out, it’s gone. Online you can go make the adjustment.
Harbrecht: At Kiplinger we don’t allow anything to go up that hasn’t been filtered. We don’t post anything that doesn’t advance a conversation that has been started in a story.
Gerbino: You just mentioned Google buying FeedBurner. Google bought FeedBurner so they now control the conversation on the content delivery. They bought Urchin so they’re controlling the metrics conversation. They bought DoubleClick. So what are your feelings on this?
Karp: The problem isn’t Google. The problem is the Web and the destruction of content-distribution monopolies.
Gerbino: If you know how to do it right, you can benefit from them aggregating a lot of content and if you are part of that content that they’re aggregating, you’re getting traffic. So do you sensationalize the headlines to get somebody to click?
Johnson: Which actually is a whole new way of thinking for us. Rather than thinking about the magazine, we’re thinking now about the article and how you package the article. Every individual article has to have the same ability to drive traffic as the homepage does.
McCutcheon: So it’s driving your taxonomy. And when does that get to the point where it’s driving the actual content meaning? We string words together that have a meaning, and we’re thinking as much about SEO or SEM management.
Karp: You are writing for machines, but at the end of the day you’re always writing for humans, because if something is good as a search engine optimized headline that will rank well on Google, it’s good because it maps to the keywords that somebody is actually typing into the search engine. It’s mapping to the thing that a human being is expressing how they’re looking for that topic.
Folio: So far, we’ve had a very e-centric conversation. I’d like to talk a little bit about how, or whether, technology is really enhancing the relationship among your different groups, the print side, the online side, the events side, data. What is that relationship like and how is technology changing this?
Huryk: People are forced to deal with it because it’s something new. From a print perspective we know that the e-world affects our print volume or circulation. It has impact, so we’ve got to be involved with any Web technology. But in the larger corporations, there’s more separation. The smaller the entity, the more people must interact. So I know what’s happening on the Web site and my Web people know what’s going on in print. One thing that’s new in print is online proofing, interesting, because in a way, everything is going back online.
Folio: How do you absorb a new technology direction, and do it effectively so that the rest of the company can accommodate it?
Gerbino: The challenge is that silos are the defensive walls put up by the different departments because of fear of how e-media can affect print and data. In some of the better organizations, a lot of those walls have broken down. The more you can break down those walls, the more you have that available to repurpose for your different needs.
Treese: Silos often exist because there’s no reason for the person in one to talk to the person in the other. You see them in the hallway, but on a business level, ‘I’m doing my magazine, you’re doing your show.’ Yeah, we’ll talk about our CRM system or something. But there’s not a real impetus. The fact that we end up being so siloed just speaks to the fact that the publishing, trade show and Web jobs don’t really require that type of cross-connection of information.
McCutcheon: Or do they? The problem is trying to convert the people who are least comfortable with the digital world. At my company, we have a very established and embedded print business and a very established, successful and embedded trade show business, and both are mature businesses. We aren’t giving them the incentive to think about digital as the high-growth engine of the company, which I believe it is. The only way to really connect is through P&L accountability. If you own a number and I own a number we’re going to work together to make that number. So I’m in favor of greater transparency.
Karp: The problem with the accounting is that it’s no longer clean. Digital bleeds into everything. I was creating an org chart the other day and it had lines going all over the place. So what’s the cost basis of everything you do online? When you’re taking stuff from the print magazine and you’re putting that online, are you accounting for the costs that went into creating that? If you’re sending someone with a video camera to your events, and then you put that up online and then you sell ads, where do those costs go? The whole thing becomes very complicated.
Gerbino: We define ourselves by the medium by which we deliver the content, rather than just being information in the information business. Because we define ourselves as magazine people, we’re out to protect the magazine. That’s why I say it’s a defensive wall. Somehow you need to say, ‘We’re in the information business.’ We need to deliver information no matter how the user wants it and find ways to profit from it.
The Future of Manufacturing and Proofing
Folio: I had asked you what technologies had the biggest impact on your department over the last year. I’d like to expand that a little and ask whether there is something that recently became viable, or is going to become viable in the near future, which you think will have a huge impact?
Delahanty: I think with IdeAlliance and SWOP we’ve done a pretty good job. Everyone was complaining in the past that manufacturing standards were not tight enough, but in the last year, they’ve tightened them. I think we have to continue to push them out to the right people. The other thing is going proofless. We probably have a couple ads a week that we have no proofs for. This is going to come sooner then we think.
Huryk: I’d pick up on what Jim was saying with the proof-less printing. You’re going to have digital interaction for the printed piece until the final printing. This is something that’s going to impact everybody.
Delahanty: I think clients are going to prod agencies to really do this. I’ll be interested to see how quickly it happens. Obviously there’s some cost savings.
Huryk: There are a lot of incentives to doing it that way. You are saving time on the delivery back and forth. You are saving cost by not generating ink or paper cost, and from an environmental perspective, you’re not making paper. Video and Editorial
Karp: One thing we haven not talked about yet is video. Every traditional print company is asking whether it should get into the video production business. The technology anyone can pretty easily and cost effectively get, and there are dozens of competitors now for these video content management and video distribution platforms.
Treese: We’ve actually equipped several editorial teams with video cameras. The big obstacle becomes how do you train people to do the editing? So we have someone internally who acts as a centralized force who can do that. But it’s not something that you can just dip your toe into. You have to go full force.
John Jainschigg: Video editing has become so much a part of our basic leisure computing. Every Macintosh has a video-editing suite and more and more of the editors that we’re working with are doing this kind of incidental video as well. They’re already familiar with the milieu of basic editing tools. They are not by any means professional video editors and they cannot draw on the infrastructure required to drop in background music;and the whole legal structure;is not really there, but the skillset is slowly coming together.
Gerbino: You want to get, especially in the b-to-b space, a video of a product in use that is very powerful rather than just someone talking. Video and mobile are two technologies that impact our business and are keeping me up at night right now.
Biggest Technological Imperatives
Folio: What’s going be your biggest technological imperative over the next year?
Johnson: Digital-asset management and digital-rights management and having a consistent system across all of our publications and our Web sites that allow us to consistently tag and understand what we have rights to use and what we don’t have rights to use and how we can use it.
Harbrecht: We’re going to try to really leverage RSS feeds to microtarget audiences to get them to come to specially designed landing pages that advertisers will pay a premium for because we have produced exactly the audience that they are looking to reach.
McCutcheon: For us it’s completing the migration from VNU to Nielsen Business Media, with hardware, networking connectivity, all the rest, and take advantage of the economies of scale, economies of efficiency and create a state of the art digital-asset management system.
Huryk: Integrating and consolidating all the titles under one system.
Gerbino: I think the biggest issue for us now is how we get our content into the workflow and what technologies are going to help. How do we get the content where we need it?
Jainschigg: We’re doing 3D virtual reality now. It’s a business model that has a huge growth rate. It looks to be the next Web-like technology in terms of its growth and ability to produce profit. It’s a technology that in principal can change the mode of engagement between buyers and sellers. We’ve already used it very successfully to create events that could not exist in the real world, and we see it as a way of capitalizing on existing growth in the event space, which is our best business in the next year.
Treese: For us there are three top projects. One is supporting our Web growth. We have about 20 different projects, that so I won’t get into all of those. It’s also making customer data more available and more seamlessly linked. And we’re totally redoing our editorial workflow much to the mantra of you create a piece of content, we don’t care if it goes in print.
Karp: I expect to see a lot of investment, ironically, in people. There will be investments in people to use the technology, and on the editorial side, people to scale up the outputs. And then the development staff, so that as the editorial staff comes up with new ideas, we have the people in place so they can turn on a dime and launch things and get things out there very quickly. So human resources still matter in our big investment.