Publishers need to experiment more.

On the one hand, many publishers of newspapers and magazines have been very experimental. On the other, they can freeze like deer in the headlights and get run over by an upstart. Based on our experience and research, larger newspapers tend to be more experimentally oriented and tend to see better results. Magazine publishers are less experimental and less digitally nimble.
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Newspapers have, arguably, been the worst impacted by the age of digital. Declining print ad sales have lead them to try more to survive. If they’re a daily newspaper, the costs of paper, ink and print are more immediate and impactful. Magazines face similar cost challenges for print, but tend to have a little more time luxury.
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But when it comes to digital, magazines need to be as savvy and as fast as newspapers. Mostly. While a magazine doesn’t necessarily need to publish digital content as much, those that do fare better. But neither are experimenting enough. Magazines and newspapers tend to look at their competitors and industry insights and attempt to follow. Some innovate. The key is building a culture of experimenting and forget the much abused word “innovation.”
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Building a culture of experimentation
The innovation word gets bandied about quite a bit. Forget it. Publishers should certainly look to innovate, but in today’ world, experimenting may produce innovations faster. And digital today enables faster experimentations at fairly low to near zero cost.
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By enabling a culture of experimentation, a publisher can ignite passions in teams, find new ideas, fail fast and succeed fast. But it means buy-in at the executive level, no matter how large or small your publication.
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With the clients that we’ve helped along this path, building a culture of experimentation means a few things;
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  • C-suite/Publisher support and commitment for at least a year
  • Creating small teams that bring together marketing/circulation, audience engagement, editorial, IT/technical, design and finance. And anyone else you want to add to the team.
  • Providing a reasonable budget to execute, based on some plans
  • Adopt the Agile Methodology in terms of project management
  • To green light experiments, rely on Lean Business Canvass models, not massive documents and spreadsheets that finance uses to mitigate every single risk.
  • Ensure that whoever the finance person is, they understand experimentation versus risk aversion.
  • Don’t set goals that are too rigid, this defeats the purpose
  • Put things out there and engage your audience, invite them in, get feedback
  • Be committed but fail fast and know when to move on
  • Have fun.
  • Run lots of experiments, some small and quick, some larger and longer.
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There are no proven formulas to success in today’s media industry. What works for one publication may not work for another. Adaptation is critical. Purely analog or purely digital don’t work. BuzzFeed is purely digital and they just laid off a ton of people. It’s about being hybrid and experimenting.
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What are your thoughts?

About the Author Giles W. Crouch

Giles Crouch is a design anthropologist and CDO/CIO. He spent over 20 years in globally-focussed marketing communications for technology products and services, but his roots are anthropology in a modern sense. He uniquely ties his deep knowledge of technology, marketing, design thinking and design anthropology as a polymath to help clients seeking digital advantage in today’s complex world. Giles has been regularly interviewed by international news media on topics such as social media, blockchain, artificial intelligence and it’s impacts on society. He is a passionate practitioner of design thinking and anthropology. Giles is prolific writer and public speaker, lecturer and keynote. He has also completed over 250 netnographic research projects since 2009. His secondary activity is as Group Publisher with Human Media Inc.

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