Multiplatform Publishing: Taking On a Brave, New World

By: Leah Betancourt

Multiplatform Publishing: Taking On a Brave, New World

It’s a dizzying, seasick world, this one of multiplatform publishing. With so many devices for acquiring news available to consumers today and the fast pace in which the devices are evolving—especially the smartphone—trying to plan a multiplatform publishing system can be as daunting as navigating through an ocean storm.            

Indeed, publishers are hitting a seawall with what Rumble’s chief revenue officer Uyen Tieu said has been coined “integration fatigue.”            

Tieu, who has a background in revenue strategy and partnerships at Viacom Inc. and headed up global sales strategy at Microsoft Corp., said that because mobile code base is only five years old, it takes a while for a new language to mature. Plus, there’s the bigger issue of non-standardization on handheld devices. “It is still an industry where it’s very fragmented. It’s very young still and resisting standardization,” she said.            

That creates a dilemma for publishers, forcing them to constantly integrate or introduce new systems. “The very proliferation of these mobile devices adds a layer of complexity that is frankly dizzying,” said Online Publishers Association’s editorial director Michelle Manafy.            

Some news organizations have even debated whether to build a mobile development team in-house. “The ability to build and maintain an in-house team that has that skill set is challenging, but it’s almost equally challenging from what I understand to find good partners to reliably produce the amount of mobile and multiplatform tools that readers expect when they look at news,” Manafy said.            

On March 17, Digital First Media announced a partnership with Rumble and its smart mobile publishing platform to upgrade Digital First’s mobile technology and launch real-time and dynamic capabilities. Dave Elchoness, senior director, digital products at Digital First, said that his company started a year ago to try to figure out when to debut its next generation of mobile products. He said Digital First wanted flexibility and the ability to differentiate, which, he said, was found with Rumble.            

“[Working with Rumble] allows us to create our own look and feel, to incorporate some of our own features; to monetize in ways that are different than even our other products on the same platform do, so in effect you get the best of both worlds,” Elchoness said.            

The partnership goes beyond just powering its handheld content products. Elchoness described the creation of what’s called the “Innovation Lab” as a commitment of both Rumble and Digital First to offer significant innovations in mobile to Digital First properties on a quarterly or more than quarterly basis.            

“You get so busy in your day-to-day. You lose track of innovation and doing things that will drive the business forward,” Elchoness said. “In our case, we’ve made a commitment to gear these things so that we remain in the lead. Innovation is definitely a huge part of what we’re doing.”            

Tieu said the first task of the Innovation Lab was to enable Digital First the ability to customize the layout, design, ad units and content in real-time without the user having to update the app. That customization extends to the advertising side, so Digital First is not constrained by mobile units. Tieu described the Rumble system as very agnostic.            

“With the Rumble platform, we support all types of ad units and customized ad units that the local sales force can come up with. That increases Digital First’s ad capability significantly because they’re not married to a couple of the squares and the banners,” she said.            

On the content side, when there are no constraints for a brand-new editorial project, simplicity can be key, especially when it comes to interactives.  

Big Challenges Await
Still, audience response has been mixed for content that is reworked for multiple platforms.            

Manafy said she has discussed optimizing content for mobile with OPA members. She said many of them were experimenting with forcing their editors to create multiple sets of headlines and multiple sets of decks that were optimized for different formats. “What they found was that the extra work didn’t necessarily increase their results,” Manafy said. “Instead they found that a better investment was simplifying headlines overall for digital.”            

Multiplatform content offerings could mean more of actually day-parting the content out, rather than making several versions of the same story for print, web and handheld devices. Manafy said that on the way to work, you read what you have to know to be able to hit the ground running when you get to work. But on the way home, you might have time for more of an immersive, long-form experience.            

“The way we’re consuming content on mobile, yes, you probably do want to create much more of a headline feed, a pared-down experience, but you don’t necessarily have to change the content for the mobile device as much as optimize the experience,” she said.            

Generating revenue with advertising on multiplatforms, particularly handheld devices, remains a challenge, but it’s a huge revenue maker. U.S. mobile ad revenue, which includes search, display, SMS, video and native social advertising, was $7.2 billion in 2013 and is forecast to hit $30.3 billion by 2018, according to the BIA/Kelsey U.S. Local Media Forecast 2013-2018 report released in April (            

Of course digital advertising goes way beyond the banner ad or takeover ad. Peter Marsh, vice president, product marketing at NEWSCYCLE Solutions, said online banner advertising is generally seen as annoying and it’s something publishers are struggling with in the transfer to mobile and tablets. “The trend is looking for more engagement in mobile and tablet advertising,” Marsh said. “When I see an ad that’s engaging, I think of one that encourages and prompts the user for more action.”            

That action itself could involve more than one platform. Marsh said one of NEWSCYCLE’s clients, the Winnipeg Free Press, is using augmented reality with a partner, Blippar. The print ad has an embedded code and when a smartphone is waved over it, users get a more engaging follow-up ad on their device. This is integrated with Winnipeg Free Press’s NEWSCYCLE Advertising system as an upsell for advertisers (            

“The conversion rate of these ads is twice what they are from run-of-site ads,” Marsh said, “meaning people are twice as likely to not only click on the ads, but twice as likely to buy the product or service being advertised.”  

Be Relevant            
One way to maximize the digital experience, including ads, is with relevancy. The NEWSCYCLE Audience product monitors the activity of registered and anonymous users and based on behavior and preferences, delivers more targeted, relevant content and advertising ( NEWSCYCLE Audience is designed to reduce bounce rates by creating a more engaging experience, Marsh said.            

The Day Publishing Co. in New London, Conn., has seen its homepage bounce rate drop 39.95 percent in August from a year earlier, according to NEWSCYCLE Solutions data. NEWSCYCLE Audience makes a recommendation to 88 percent of its readers. Its audience recommended content was clicked on average 18 percent of the time in May, 2013.            

Smartphones are not only bridging that step into an engaging advertisement experience, they are an increasingly bigger part of signups for paid subscription models. Press+’s recent study of 173 publications found that subscription sales through mobile devices had increased 250 percent in the previous five months, according to a company news release from March (see graph). Also, subscription sales made using mobile devices now make up nearly 15 percent of new digital subscriptions, which is up from less than about 5 percent in October (                

“What’s new is that people are not only purchasing access to news through their smartphones and tablets but that’s a part of a subscription,” said Press+ co-CEO Gordon Crovitz. “What’s new is the transaction itself, the signing up for the subscription, is increasingly happening on that smartphone. That did take us by surprise because it has happened so quickly.” Nearly all of Press+ publishers offer all-digital access under their paid subscriptions. Crovitz said digital subscriptions are the fastest growing source of revenue for newspapers.            

“Publishers are configuring their mobile versions for how people consume news mobilely—which is more real-time,” he said. “Shorter stories and mobile versions are increasingly different from the desktop versions. I think that’s all encouraging trends from publishers.”            

Olive Software Inc. is known for generating digital replica editions of print content with its Active Paper Daily product. In April, it launched a new ad product called OLIVads that aims to get more national advertising into client publisher’s replica products ( “One of the things we’re transitioning to is more of a revenue generation partner with publishers,” said Olive Software’s director of strategy Joe Wikert. “They see the first indication of this with OLIVads, which was formally launched earlier this year and represents a completely new revenue stream that Olive competitors don’t offer.”            

Olive Software partnered with agency JPiper media, which acts as a broker between Olive Software and the publishing partners. Piper sends feeds to publishers indicating the national advertisement spots available in the upcoming weeks. Publishers can then opt in or out of these campaigns. “So the benefit of having hundreds of newspaper titles is that we can aggregate the category and offer that to national advertisers as a one-stop solution so they don’t have to talk individually with every paper,” Wikert said. The ads are dynamically injected into only the daily e-edition, not the print edition.            

Multiplatform publishing continues to test newspapers in the digital space. Reaching news consumers where they are on handheld devices is undoubtedly a matter of choosing a provider that’s a good fit, knowing the audience, studying the analytics, and adjusting the content plan so it resonates with that audience.

A Bountiful Project
A team at the Tampa Bay Times spent nine months producing “The Last Voyage of the Bounty,” a multimedia series about the Bounty ship’s sinking during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Bill Duryea, enterprise editor at the Tampa Bay Times, said the newspaper staff looked at The New York Times’ multimedia project of 2012, “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” and wondered what ideas they could draw from that in producing their own cross-platform presentation of the Bounty story.            

“We have a lot of experience with multipart narratives in print, but this was our opportunity to step up our game a little bit and see if we could do something as equally high quality online,” Duryea said.            

During early discussions, Duryea said the staff didn’t know what platform it was going to use. The digital team began researching systems. Lee Glynn, the Times’ senior online designer at the time, said she chose a Parallax scrolling template that cost about $18 to display the interactive. The results can be seen at the Times’ October 2013 three-part online presentation of the Bounty story at            

According to Duryea, the project’s reporting process was front-end labor intensive. The team met early on to rigorously outline the story. Each person on the team had well-defined roles. “This required sitting in a room with huge pieces of paper tacked to the walls and writing it out—part 1, scene 1, and that template for the print product for the story was something that we mirrored online,” Duryea said.            

He recalled Glynn asking this: If this is the arc of the story, what are we bringing to the online version at these particular moments?            

There were two outlines for the project. Glynn said she drafted a parallel storyline outline of digital elements and where they would go in the story for her and her intern, Alexis Sanchez, to work with. “We literally mapped out and made those determinations before we went into production, so that everybody was working with the same set of plans,” she said.            

The team spent time thinking about what they could do to best present the story online, but the biggest challenge was not trying to do too much. “I think the online storytelling, the interactive story projects that have a lot of interactivity, can go awry if they’re too whiz-bangy,” Duryea said.            

The Times wanted to make the story as seamless a transition to online as possible. So, it was decided to keep the interactivity on-demand rather than automatically triggered. Writing of the story was finished six weeks before the deadline so the digital team of two, with many supporting additional team members, could work with it.            

Glynn said another challenge of the project was making sure it was compatible for all browsers and platforms. That involved constant “rejiggering.” For example, it required using a static image for the mobile platform, instead of an interactive one.             The project was a finalist in the American Society of News Editors’ contest for digital storytelling. “We could learn, we could master it and we could pull out something that we’re really proud of,” Duryea said. “Internally, learning what your team is capable of; what the newsroom is capable of, well, for us the return on investment was huge.” —Leah Betancourt
Multiplatform Providers


Here is a list of some of the leading multiplatform publishing service providers:

Press Reader—Press Reader is a cross-platform content distributor and publisher. Press Reader products viewable on HTML5 mobile web, desktop, tablets, smartphones, and eReaders running iOS, Android, Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10. They can also provide full ecommerce. Cost is based on revenue sharing or a publisher bundles a digital edition with other content, it’s based on number of downloads or subscribers they have. Press Reader Kiosk is an all-you-can-read subscription model that gives consumers access to more than 3500 publications. Consumer subscription rates start at $29.95.

Libercus—Libercus is the signature news publishing product of E. Viddal & Associates LLC. It is a 100 percent cloud-based system that uses just a single login and single user interface to create content platforms including print, mobile web, desktop, apps, and email newsletters. Digital delivery cost is priced by cost per thousand deliveries. It starts at about $1 per thousand and goes down based on volume. For print, cost is consumption based and per user based. The cost for consumption based starts at about $5 per page and goes down significantly by volume.

Press+—Press+ is provider of paid content systems to more than 500 publications and 300 more publication have signed up and plan to launch in the future. The cost to use Press+ is a $4,500 set-up fee plus a standard revenue share of digital subscription revenues where the publisher gets 80 percent and Press+ gets 20 percent. Publishers receive a turnkey solution to launch a paid model, which includes Press+ software, e-commerce and privacy compliance, credit-card handling, 24/7 customer service (phone and online) and access to exclusive best-practices data collected by Press+ on where to set meters, how much to charge, whether to vary rates depending on geography or other factors.

NEWSCYCLE Solutions—NEWSCYCLE Solutions is the result of a merger between DTI and Saxotech and the acquisition of Atex. It provides products including content management systems, advertising management, circulation and audience targeting systems. Cost options include the traditional software licenses; buying software on by subscription that is based on per user, per month; buying the software under a managed services agreement so wrapped into the per user, per month price is hosting and systems applications support.

Whiz Technologies—MobileNewsPack is a mobile publishing platform for apps including iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire, Android devices and HTML5 mobile web. The MobileNewsPack platform supports a variety of different paid access models, ad revenue streams and gives publishers the ability to control and modify the mobile apps real time from a single dashboard. Publishers pay a one-time, setup fee and a monthly platform and support fee. There is an optional fee for making any customizations to the platform or the apps.  

Roxen—The Roxen Editorial Portal CMS is a web-based solution that supports multichannel publishing with central pagination and a degree of templating. It gives everyone in the editorial department a full overview of news production. It is delivered as a local cloud solution with all hardware, updates and support included in the price. It requires no hardware investment and has a flexible subscription model adapted to the number of users. Roxen customers pay a monthly fee per user of $150-$200 (based on anywhere from 10-100 users. A lower number of users pay a higher fee). The price includes software, hardware, updates, new releases, monitoring and support. There is a one-time installation and setup cost. Training is included. Those customers who subscribe to the Roxen Editorial Portal also get the Roxen News Website at a nominal cost. This is a modern responsive web CMS specifically developed for small- and medium-sized newspapers and news organizations.  

Olive Software Inc.—Olive Software Inc. is known for generating digital replica editions of print content with its ActivePaper Daily product. Olive ActivePaper Daily is a SaaS product that creates replica e-editions of newspapers. Its new OLIVads service dynamically injects ads into the daily e-edition. The Olive ActivePaper Archive is a SaaS digital archiving solution, according to the company’s website. Olive years ago switched from a software reseller to a SaaS model and the price scales accordingly to factors such as the number of subscribers, publication frequency, etc.

—Rumble is a centralized platform that powers mobile strategy across any device on any kind of operating system language—all Internet browsers, iOS, Android, Windows, and Kindle. Their business model is a performance-based partnership. They do not charge a setup fee or licensing fee.  

MediaSpan—MediaSpan is a provider of digital content management, online marketing, advertising, circulation and business productivity products. NewsEditPro offers automation and a multi-channel approach that provides content to several locations in real-time. AdManagerPro the advertising management system. Ads can be entered, billed and exported for both print and digital platforms. CirculationPro allows sites to manage their digital subscriptions in addition to print.



Multiplatform Publishing Tips

Here are tips on how newspapers can create a successful multiplatform publishing effort:  

Understand the capability and technologies—Publishers need to evaluate the technology to make sure it allows them to up their game. Press Reader’s chief content officer Nikolay Malyarov said publishers should look at whether the product supports all the existing and emerging platforms. He said they should look at the quality and operational capability of the product. “You cannot be reactive. It’s not something that you can build overnight,” he said. But don’t just look at the product, understand the vision and the roadmap. “A lot of times, when folks look at vendors and partners, they just look at the product. Instead of that they ought to look at a particular vision or the way the partner thinks about the world and what the future holds to ensure that vision aligns with yours.”

Experiment—Get designers and developers involved in editorial meetings so you’re working from the same set of plans, vision and understanding of  the technical boundaries of the project. Michelle Manafy, editorial director at the Online Publishers Association, said The New York Times recently started to embed technologists into its editorial teams to encourage a more robust integration technology and the craft of journalism itself. “You don’t have this disconnect between the technology team and the creative team,” she said.  

Know the medium—Understand that mobile is new and growing, and is not yet fully formed. The way people consume data and advertising on mobile devices is different than on the desktop. It’s faster and akin to snacking as opposed to absorbing information. “Have you designed a product to reflect that?” said Digital First’s Dave Elchoness. “It’s experimenting; it’s prototyping; it’s measuring how people interact with the product and iterating very quickly to account for behavior.”  

Know your audience—Gauge what pops with readers and reach out to them specifically on that platform. Manafy said the A.H. Belo Corp. has seen a big spike in the consumption of its high school sports content. Belo takes a chunk of that content and repackages it for mobile because it’s predominantly consumed on mobile devices. “The big, sticky thing is real-time sports score reporting from high school sports. Know your audiences, know your content offerings and leverage those insights, for example, to repackage your existing content into really creative products that can generate additional revenue,” she said.  

Differentiate—Do your apps look like every other app offered by that same provider? There’s also differentiation with action, design, utility or presentation. David Link, co-founder of The Wonderfactory, pointed out Quartz’s website layout in which there is a list of scrollable headlines on the left side, and the right side is a scrollable opened, full view of each story. He said that’s a trend that has been picking up in a lot of different news organizations in which the organization talks to its news clients about differentiating by making news actionable and useful and not just something that you read. For example, The Wonder Factory made a prototype for a sports section of a newspaper that involves taking a 3D engine from a game. Viewers can watch it rendered in 3D, a way in which they were unable to watch games in the past.

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