About to board a plane to London to attend the FIPP World Congress, we grab five minutes with Hutch Hicken, co-owner, president, and chief technology officer of digital edition specialists BlueToad, Inc.
Q: What do you hope to learn at FIPP World Congress?
A: I’m particularly interested in learning publisher strategies for efficiently managing content creation and deployment while maintaining content quality standards readers have come to expect. I’m eager to hear how publishers are deploying data-driven personalisation to keep readers engaged. I’m also interested to hear publishers’ experiences matching their readers with relevant advertisers, without damaging publisher goodwill with either.
Q: How should publishers be honing their content strategies?
A: In this era, awash in low-nutrition “snackable” content, the relationship between reader and publisher must become increasingly nourishing to sustain either party. A moderate flow of curated, quality content that’s easy to access and personalised to be relevant to the reader builds a much stronger relationship than a firehose flow of undifferentiated clickbait. When a reader can look to a publication as a trusted advisor with the individual reader’s interests at heart, value propositions become easy for both sides.
The challenge for the publisher is to find a cost- and time-effective method to author, distribute, and re-incorporate reader data to create and foster this healthy cycle.
Q: How can digital pennies be turned into digital pounds?
A: I believe that making money as a publisher is founded on the bedrock of a healthful, mutually-beneficial relationship with the reader. A satisfied readership is willing to pay a reasonable subscription for access to real value from a publication. A reader who knows a publication won’t waste her time with spammy ads will value an introduction to a relevant service provider or product almost as if it were a word-of-mouth referral from a close friend.
Re-establishing trust between publisher and reader can take time, but mutual trust and value at scale is the only viable path forward.
Q: What’s the next big tech challenge / opportunity?
A: One significant technical challenge is fine-tuning the perfect fit between publisher and reader at scale. Content must be personalised, experiences must be engaging, and the monetisation strategy must fit the publication-reader relationship. This requires near-realtime amalgamation of personalised data flows and format-flexible content.
Relatedly, a continuing opportunity is moulding quality content to the ever-emerging parade of new devices and reader behaviours - from virtual / augmented / mixed reality experiences to automated podcasts to social network integration – in a way that preserves the voice and brand of the publication, all without breaking the bank.
Q: What’s coming next from BlueToad?
A: Recently, we upgraded our platform to closely preserve publication colours, fonts, and styles to better convey brand and voice to readers and preserve that intimacy core to the publisher-reader relationship. We augmented our platform to directly incorporate externally-hosted publisher content – YouTube, Vimeo, RSS data, etc – into a unified reader experience in our LilyPad Pro product. LilyPad Pro also now enables automated article narration, turning publications into podcasts with the click of a button.
We are also really excited about the advent of phone-based virtual reality systems – particularly on the Android platform. These systems allow readers to experience virtual reality on a device they already carry around with them all day, within their existing web browser. We are now on the cusp of releasing virtual reality experiences for these platforms, which we have designed to require zero publisher effort.
Finally, we have begun rolling out individualised content recommendations based on reader history data and AI-driven content classification. This initiative will be key to creating and maintaining that all-important publisher-reader relationship and, consequently, to driving publisher monetisation.
Q: What content do you relax with at home?
A: At our house, my wife and I enjoy reading books aloud together and with our children – everything from classics to sci-fi to Harry Potter. We find it a great way to unplug from the internet and connect with each other!