Digital publishing means constant flux: get used to it, hire leaders who can adapt and react

Sometimes the pace of change in publishing can be staggering. It seems not a month goes by without the arrival of a technology or platform that causes permanent disruption to how and where content is presented to end-users and forces executives to (again) fundamentally rethink their digital model.

The other week we met with a senior figure at a major international online publisher to discuss the changing nature of their business. He flagged up the biggest issue almost immediately:

‘The emphasis,’ he said, ‘has changed from driving traffic to our sites to taking our content out to where people are. That requires quite a change of mindset within the business.’

This description neatly conveys a general trend we’ve watched accelerate over the past year to 18-months. The idea of a destination website that houses all the content of a publishing brand or producer is becoming a thing of the past.

Increasingly, it’s the case that editorial content from a single production source can appear in multiple destinations. Through the course of a day, an individual may encounter digital content from one brand or publisher piecemeal through social media feeds, key websites, and other points of distribution and aggregation.

Great, no? Lots of engagement, lots of eyeballs seeing your stuff and becoming associated with your brands?

Well, yes and no. Spare a thought here for those poor legacy print types who were just getting their heads around existing digital models, only to see the likes of Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat and Apple News turn the entire business model upside down.

For them, and for others, a large part of the concern is that while these new models present opportunities – such as increased reach and more sophisticated revenue generating strategies – they also mean publishers risk losing control of their own distribution systems.

For legacy print publishers, the value of their products has traditionally been in safeguarding and controlling their distribution. It would, therefore, take quite a shift in mindset to adapt to this changing reality, and it’s easy to see how some publishers might resist, or otherwise struggle to react.

At the same time, it’s more important than ever to have people at the helm of these businesses who can react, and can react quickly to the ever-changing nature of digital publishing. One new distribution platform, one new technology, could change the entire landscape overnight – and because of this it’s critical that publishing firms equip themselves with digital leaders who can demonstrate their ability to react and adapt (and bring others along with them). Flexible and forward-thinking digital heads are going to find themselves in extremely high demand.

This isn’t going to happen in the dark and distant future, it has already started and, over the coming year, it’s only going to snowball. The time for businesses to equip themselves with smart, innovative digital leaders is now.