Back in 2011, I participated in a panel at The Folio: Show that looked at the ways custom publishing shops had evolved into full-fledged marketing services operations. To meet their clients’ needs, they were now offering content in myriad ways to audiences that could be found holding—and reading—all manner of devices. I hadn’t actually realized the extent to which our offerings had changed until I began to prepare the presentation and really analyze the strategies we were developing for our clients.
Four years later, we’re at a point where, instead of magazines being the mainstay of our operation, we’re not producing a single magazine. Instead, we’ve been creating white papers, annual forecasts, blogposts, infographics, microsites, advertorials, native ads, toolkits, display ads, webinars and even a retro ViewMaster reel.
The change played out in real-time during a recent meeting with the new head of content marketing for one of our clients. In the course of telling him about the magazine we had produced for them for several years, it was clear that, to him, print magazines were something out of another century. He was oriented toward more digital, more “snackable,” more measurable, more modern forms of content.
As we’ve seen with the emergence and reemergence of so many print magazines during the last few years, print isn’t as antiquated as some suggest. Still, the client’s approach to thinking about content has lots of credence, and it’s resonated for me in the last couple of weeks.
First, I went to a conference held by Nxtbook Media, a company that may be best known for its flipbook replicas of print magazines. It turns out that flipbooks are an increasingly small part of their operation. Yes, they’re creating digital magazines and experimenting with responsive design, but more than that, they’re advising companies on their IT operations, developing apps, websites and a host of custom media solutions. And they’re sending out team members to advise clients on how to embrace the change swirling around them. That last message rippled throughout the room—especially with attendees who were struggling with how to take that message of change back to their calcified management.
Coincidentally, a day or so before the conference, I’d met with the associate director of the Content Council to discuss some ideas about how to rework the categories for the Council’s Pearl Awards. I’d helped to invent those categories about a dozen years ago and, while I’d agreed to small tweaks over the years, I’d been reluctant to make major changes in either the categories or the overall structure of the show.
But whether it was because of my client’s comments, discussions that took place at the Nxtbook conference, or just my own general reflection on the ways in which our business has changed, the calcification I’d long brought to the Pearl categories melted away. I found myself developing a new structure for the awards. Gone were some of the more artificial distinctions between print and digital; gone were some of the traditional divisions between design and editorial; gone were the separate “strategy” categories.
In their place were contests that examined entire strategic content marketing campaigns, that evaluated long-form content and white papers regardless of the channels in which they appeared; that looked at the strategy behind “snackable” entries; that differentiated between type treatments on the printed page and on the screen; that evaluated magazines not by whether they were well edited or well designed, but by how well they used the medium for which they were created.
I’m not sure that any of the above qualifies as an epiphany, but it’s evidence of evolution—both the industry’s and my own. It will be interesting to see how well these ideas for new Pearl categories are accepted and utilized. It will be interesting to see how Nxtbook continues its growth as a consultative organization. And it will be interesting to see how well all of us navigate the changing seas that take us in new directions each time we think we’ve found our way.