Read between the lines before you go online
In 1999, a friend sent me a link to a website commending its "cool effects". This was a magazine's website, on which you could "flip" through the pages of an entire issue by clicking and dragging the corner of the page. This "e-magazine" format seemed to me a triumph of Flash coding at the time, and really quite well executed.
And I absolutely hated it.
I've been a lover of print magazines for as long as I can remember, and I love the hyperlinked nature of the web to an equally passionate degree. But I saw no reason why publishers would want to replicate what was a physical, and rather superfluous, phenomenon in a digital environment.
It would be some years later before I would understand why.
In the past 10 years, there have been three significant technological shifts affecting magazine publishers - namely the web, the smartphone/tablet and social media. These shifts affected us in different ways.
Websites demanded higher frequency of content updates; tablet publishing made it necessary to come up with multiple design formats of the same magazine; and social media meant our readers were now talking to us more directly than ever before.
Whenever one of these shifts occur, publishers, like all other companies, attempt to protect their existing businesses while trying to make sense of the new technology in the hope of monetising it. Sometimes it's hard to do both.
The first question many publishers ask when confronted with new technology is: "How do we use it to deliver our existing content?" The digital page-flipper described above, which has survived to this day through software peddled by numerous companies, is a prime example of this mindset.
While it's natural for us to try to understand something new in the context of something we already know, it's critical for publishers to thoroughly learn and use each new medium fully before trying to figure out how best to extend our media's presence into that space.
I believe the key approach is to ask, "What can this technology do better for our readers?" I'll elaborate with some quick examples.
Content websites should aim to be updated as frequently as possible. Websites that merely re-publish all existing content from the print versions monthly will forego this chance to build up reader loyalty.
In planning for tablet versions, I suggest considering first what added distribution having a tablet version gives to your title. In smaller, more saturated media markets such as Singapore, the increase in distribution, and consequently subscription revenues, might be negligible, especially after taking into account the App Store's commissions (the iPad still dominates the tablet market). Doing this exercise in realism prevents disappointment later on.
If you decide it is worthwhile, even simply as a branding measure, try to make the best use of the device's capabilities so you don't merely replicate the same print magazine version.
As for social media, my view is pragmatic: since we can't beat it, we should just use it as best we can. Facebook's huge user base gives us a quick way to connect with our readers and to use its social networking features to spread our brand.
And sometimes, the better decision is just to say no. Remember, Apple and Facebook didn't make its products for magazine publishers like us. If their products don't add value for our readers and advertisers, I see no embarrassment in staying out of the fray. From flipping to clicking to swiping, the only certainty is there will always be some new technology that promises to challenge our old habits. But I believe the approach is the same: figure out what is unique about each new technology, and whether and how it can add value to readers and advertisers.
Personally, I'm still hoping for the day digital page-flipping turns a page on itself in the annals of media history.
Julian Peh is group CEO at WhiteWave Media Group