The art of reinvention

A recurring theme of this week’s Digital Media Strategies 2013 conference in London was reinvention.

Here’s the drill: the transition from traditional media to digital media is disruptive and while it doesn’t necessarily destroy it does fragment and when those fragments are pieced together they are often done so in ways completely different from before.

That’s the theory. What about the practice? Here are three examples:

The Economist is now a radio broadcaster. Well not quite but it does deliver 1.5 million audio streams a month, according to Nick Blunden. That presents an interesting opportunity, he argued, because it allows The Economist not just to compete for scarce “reading time” but — given people can listen while doing something else — also to compete for their “free time”.

Auto Trader: the people behind this new-and-used car magazine have turned themselves from publisher to search provider; an obvious move in retrospect for a listings paper but, most likely, brave at the time. That initial move last decade has, said Trader Media Group’s Nick Gee, made the “transition to mobile relatively easy”. Now a third of their traffic comes from mobile phones. And, given the rate of growth, Gee predicted that like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, he’ll be able to call Trader Media a mobile company by the end of the year.

Computer Weekly, launched in 1966, was the world’s first weekly technology newspaper  and became the UK’s last weekly technology newspaper when it stopped printing in 2011. The transition from print to print-plus-digital to digital-only brought with it new lessons and insights, said editor-in-chief Bryan Glick. For example, “We moved from knowing exactly who was subscribing but no idea what they were reading to knowing exactly what they were reading but no idea who they were.” Online registration has since underpinned Computer Weekly’s business model.

Another insight: the assumption that news was what the reader craved did not quite hold up to scrutiny. “News attracts [readers] but long form is what keeps them there,” he said. Where once the ratio of stories was 70:30 in favour of news the editorial team now produce as many long form pieces as they do news stories.

I’ve written more about The Economist and Auto Trader talks over on the Press Gazette — and plan to flesh out some thoughts about Glick’s very interesting Computer Weekly presentation in due course.

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