letters-418634_640It’s been a tough week for print media; Gannett, E.W. Scripps, and the Tribune Company have all spun off their print businesses. It’s not surprising considering the migration to digital that has been occurring over the past decade. Media is not alone. Publishing companies are facing similar challenges as eBooks and other digital offerings gain favor with consumers.

In both my current and previous jobs I’ve worked with companies that were at some stage of the print-to-digital transition (or maybe, print-to-hybrid-print-and-digital is more accurate). Although business models may vary, the challenges these businesses face are quite similar. Here are a few of them:

Print and digital products require different capabilities

Creating online newspapers and eBooks isn’t as simple as scanning the pages to a PDF. That is probably obvious to anyone who has used a Kindle or visited the USA Today website. Things get tougher when you are a news agency who now has to start creating interactive infographics, or an eLearning company who has to create a web portal for a class. You need programmers, user experience experts, content management systems, a delivery infrastructure…. All of which are much more complex than the print operations of yesterday. Companies are creating new businesses in an area that is very unfamiliar to them. It’s difficult, painful, and expensive.

It is harder to predict the cost to develop digital products than print products

Media and publishing companies had the development of print products down to a science. Project costs and timelines were predictable, which led to a simple product portfolio process and happy CFO’s. When those folks are exposed to their first digital projects and the variability that comes with them, you get CFO’s that are notably more anxious. And sweaty.

Things get worse if the CFO can’t adjust to the new world and tightens the screws on their portfolio management process. In an attempt to reduce risk and variability, they create processes that force technologists to deliver to the penny on their SWAGs (early, rough estimates). Without any tolerance to risk, the business gets the added bonus of having any chance at real innovation squeezed out of them.

Sales and distribution channels are much more complex in the digital world

Digital sales can and do happen anywhere. Businesses with print products have more or less made it through the initial rise of ecommerce through a combination of online direct sales and partnering with the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Now, however, your business’s eBook needs to be on multiple platforms, your newspaper needs to be compatible with every major browser, plus you have iOS, Android, and Windows Phone (maybe) apps to maintain and deliver content to, and don’t forget you also need to make money off these products, so you have complex subscription, pay and ad supported options to give consumers what they want. Maintaining a presence in all these spaces and doing it in a way that makes your customers happy is hard and requires a lot of skilled people.

Customers have no tolerance for your clunky, ugly user interface

Have you ever had an eBook that looks great on your e-reader, but then looks downright disheveled on your mobile device? Or, perhaps a web page that doesn’t work well on one browser, but is fine on another? As a YouTube sensation once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” And it’s true, we don’t. But, what is even worse is when someone is looking at your digital product, rendered perfectly in all of its glory, then they look down at their mobile device and ask, “Why can’t this site/eBook/web portal work as well as my iPhone?” Today’s consumers have high standards, and if you don’t meet them, your product is dead on arrival.

As with all shifting business models, things can be scary, but they can also be an opportunity. The team at Thought Ensemble has worked with several customers in this space and have helped them to diagnose and improve their business and delivery models. This is a hot area, as evidenced by this week’s news. Now is the time to begin!