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Why the Future of Publishing Isn’t Tote Bags

Sure, everybody loves a nice tote bag...but is the ability to ship tote bags essential to the success of a modern digital media company?

While the importance of print media has been in decline since the advent of the Internet, many legacy media brands are still beholden to relationships with third-party printing partners that not only manage printing, but also handle billing and customer service — and ship tote bags to subscribers. In the past, media businesses had a different understanding of what services were essential to own, but, as digital subscription platforms have become more sophisticated, leading media companies like Penske Media Corporation (with 260 million consumers of their 22 digital and print brands, including Rolling Stone, Variety, WWD, and Deadline Hollywood) have begun questioning the status quo. The print publishing world grew up around legacy systems. These systems helped with printing and related services, but don’t have the feature functionality needed by today’s digital organizations, especially as more and more magazines, like many of PMC’s brands, move to 100% digital models. “Legacy tech stacks aren’t nimble. They can’t respond in the ways that a modern business needs to respond,” says Jenny Connelly, Senior Vice President of Product and Technology, PMC. What’s more: they own the valuable relationship with your customers.”

We had to beg for — and even pay extra for — our own data!

Jenny Connelly, Senior Vice President of Product and Technology, PMC

For brands that had already made the shift to 100% digital, like PMC’s WWD (Women’s Wear Daily), there’s no value to keeping them on a print billing platform. Instead, it makes sense to shift these brands onto a digital billing platform. The process to find a new system starts with documentation: what did the old existing system do — and what of this is mission critical versus a nice to have. As PMC discovered, there have to be trade-offs. Take tote bags. PMC’s legacy system supported the ability to send tote bags, but is that really an essential feature?

As PMC asked themselves: Do you really need tote bags, or can you start increasing your revenue faster without them?

The exercise is to compare the features you had on a legacy system to those you actually need to manage a digital publication. This means going back to the drawing board, with the simple question: what business need are you trying to solve? Identify what’s core, then outsource the rest. So what is core for a leading media company like PMC? Writers, photographers, interviews, figuring out the news, and customer data. In the “old days,” having and maintaining an Excel spreadsheet so a magazine could get to a customer’s house, wasn’t core. That could be outsourced. But with customer data in a third-party system, media companies like PMC don’t have access to subscription metrics which means that they don’t know what customers are doing: they can’t measure ARPU (average revenue per user) or churn.

Now customer data is core.

It’s essential for a media business to know and understand their customers directly.

What’s not core for media companies? Printing, stapling, folding, distributing, and being landlords and janitors of a building with printing presses in the basement. A modern digital platform supports what’s core: being nimble, being flexible, and being able to test things. For example, ecommerce tests all the time, but with an old printing management system, media companies can’t even A/B test pricing.

In the increasingly competitive media landscape, product innovation and customer experience have the potential to be differentiators.

That’s why companies like PMC need the ability to innovate to increasingly provide customers with real value. That’s not to say that subscribers won’t be able to get their hands on a cool Rolling Stone tote bag anymore! It just means that, in addition to that canvas carry-all, consumers can also get immediate access to all the content they want, when they want it, where they want it, how they want it — and that’s the value of a fully enabled digital experience: the value that consumers demand.

And the shift from a legacy platform to a digital platform is as dramatic as the shift from waiting impatiently for your daily paper to be delivered to accessing that content in real time.

And the shift from a legacy platform to a digital platform is as dramatic as the shift from waiting impatiently for your daily paper to be delivered to accessing that content in real time. “For PMC, switching from our third-party legacy system to Zuora meant the difference between 0 and 1: it’s binary,” says Connelly. “You either cannot test digital monthly billing, or you can. It’s a question of not being able to do something at all or being able to do it. Having the right infrastructure flipped the switch for us” to enable innovation. And that beats a tote bag, anyday!

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