Looking at the agenda and overhearing comments about yesterday’s PPA (Professional Publishers’ Association – that’s magazines to you and me) conference it’s clear that they are entering the next phase of their relationship with the internet. From denial, through despair, then resignation, to adoption and excitement, we saw the TV industry go through a similar progression of attitude about 4 years ago. What the magazine industry – and other media sectors – now realise is that quality content and great brands have nothing to fear and lots to gain from new technology and there’s nothing to stop them expanding online.
I concede that the economic model is a bit harder to sort out for print online compared to TV and radio online; you can only charge for an ad on a page that’s actually served as opposed to getting paid for print ads whether the page is read or not. But people still want to read great writing enhanced with good design, photography and illustration. The internet has enabled some UK newspapers to reach millions more people both in the UK and internationally than their print circulations ever could, so it’s time to be optimistic about the prospects for magazines.
Andrew Rashbass, CEO of The Economist and one of yesterday’s PPA speakers, shared his fascinating views on the nature of reading online. Some of you might have heard him in similar vein at the Guardian Changing Media Summit or the Festival of Media recently. Put simply, in the early days of the Economist website, research revealed that the experience was very lean forward and interactive but consumed in short snacking sessions, so they amended the content and format accordingly. But the arrival of tablets has changed their view. The Economist iPad app is consumed in very much the same way as the print original: lean-back, absorbed, immersed, read for extended periods – and crucially, properly paid for. In this example, as with so many others, approaching their content in one way, according to the technology delivering it, would be wrong. The lines need to be redrawn across platforms.
The fact that the same distribution method can offer such diverse contexts for the same content is instructive. For us in TV, we delight in people catching up with Britain’s Got Talent clips on their smartphone on their way to work on the bus. New times and places for watching TV can only be a good thing, but it’s clearly a very different experience from sitting at home with your family around you watching BGT via ITV Player on a 42” connected HD TV set. Not necessarily better or worse, but definitely different.
Long gone are the days when a single device or technology defined the content; you can now listen to radio via pretty much any electrical gadget, including a TV set. So, though quality of content is the most important consideration, we must also learn to understand and make a value judgement on the context – both physical and emotional – in which it’s consumed. How does it change the effectiveness of the advertising in it and its suitability for the task? My guess is that lean-back is probably more effective for long-term memory, changing how you think and feel about brands at a deep level, whereas lean-forward might be better suited to provoking a short-term action. Until the research exists we won’t know; something else to add to our To-do list. In the meantime, our intuition will have to do.