Publish Asia: Betting on a future

Jul 27, 2008 at 07:23 pm by Staff

It was oddly symbolic: bustling Macau, now dependent on revenue from tourism and gambling, trying to find space and time for its heritage-listed past. The former Portuguese trading port – now part of China – was the venue for a Publish Asia conference in which ‘traditional’ newspaper publishing topics vied with the urgency of new revenue stream from online and mobile. Ifra Asia’s upmarket event continues to attract the cream of the region’s publishers and delegates would win either way: If they needed more than the tight two-day programme and its parallel sessions provided – or simply couldn’t be in two places at once – there were workshops before and afterwards to fill in the gaps. The formal welcomes came from chairman and ‘Bangkok Post’ editor-in-chief Pichai Chuensuksawadi – who raised the challenges of new media as well as concern over newsprint prices – and director of Macau SAR’s government information bureau Victor Chan. And from Ifra chief executive Reiner Mittelbach, who must know his ‘change has become a way of life’ address by heart now. He makes a valid point that, “if we knew (what the future holds) we wouldn’t be here.” The German-based organisation has recently revamped its image, “going back to its roots” in research to find ways of helping members to become stronger in print and improving their positions in digital publishing. An increased research budget now amounted to almost Euros 2 billion ($3.24 billion), he says. An objective look at newspapers’ task in “turning the perspective around” came from Tomas Brunegård, a former management consultant and Burger King executive who is now chief executive of Sweden’s Stampen group and vice chairman of the World Association of Newspapers. From an environment in which they might feel they were “bouncing around in a tumble dryer”, newspaper publishers needed to start seeing themselves as winners. The Swedish perspective was moderated by the story of a newspaper launched in 1645 which went totally digital last year, and of an East Indies ship which almost sank a century later while carrying goods worth half the country’s annual GDP. Today’s market sees four out of five Swedes buying a newspaper, and “although paid-sale titles have lost circulation, frees have filled the gap”. Yet to many, the internet is “almost as vital as air,” he says. For his four children, “the world would not exist” without access to the internet and mobile phones. Brunegård is among the many who have been discussing the merits of citizen content ... the result of an audience which won’t settle for being fed information. A positive was that it helped publishers see what has to be changed. The journey from a ‘production-to-customer’ model to a market perspective is non-negotiable, he says. “Social networks are a way of life for millions, but create confusion for advertisers,” Brunegård says. “There is a need for stability but the situation is far from stable – advertising money is being spent all over the place.” The internet spend of 14 per cent is among the world’s highest, and Brunegård says in losing market share, newspapers have lost the sense of growth, “and maybe the ambition for growth”. What’s new, he says, is the ability for advertisers to reach customers ‘on their own’, the websites of companies such as Volvo, Nike and the Ikea group reaching audiences in the tens of millions. Unilever’s Dove ‘self-esteem’ video had been watched by a claimed 400 million people. “In this eco system, the consumer is the winner, but newspapers can be winners too,” Brunegård says. And he advises publishers to “put on customer glasses and look in”. An initiative within Stampen two years ago had been to do just that – “thinking what customers were thinking”. He cited the example of the Stadium sporting goods retailer – partly owned by Ikea – which had initiated a series of jogging routes (each of which passed by a store) as an alternative to the clothes-shop-like advertisements it had been running in newspapers. The largest promotional investment Stadium had ever made saw running paths established through 33 cities and created daily press awareness. Involvement in programmes to sell a concept had shown publishers could cooperate with advertisers to create a ‘win-win’ situation. The message is to “stay close” and form partnerships with customers, whose input can help publishers to make the right decisions he says. One outcome for Stampen has been to get involved in custom publishing, “something we wouldn’t have considered two years ago”. Göteborgs Posten had been a local newspaper, but a strategy for change had seen acquisitions leading to a group of 27 newspapers, 30 websites (and cooperation with 23 more) and the country’s three largest internet communities. A printing company also contributes to marketing synergies Says Brunegård, the ‘next big thing’ is to create partnerships with the companies we call advertisers ... “to step out of our own structures and look from the outside in”. Discussing issues surrounding the question ‘who will print the newspaper of the future, Ifra research director Manfred Werfel pointed to the changes in perceptions and appetites for printed news. In a market in which customers are now “confused by too much information”, he says the qualities of news selection and presentation have become paramount. Recent developments have seen a trend towards full colour on every page, and the use of smaller formats – such as Berliner – with magazine-like design. While newspaper and magazine production have traditionally been fundamentally different, interest in semicommercial production – using dryers and improved materials – continues to increase and Ifra has published eight special reports on the subject since 1987. Products range from magazines and inserts to added-value advertisements and newspapers, using heatset and UV drying, better paper and ink, improved ink and dampening control, and postpress facilities for inserting, stitching and trimming. But he warns that there are limitations to what can be achieved – especially using vertical web leads for printing – in terms of ink density and coverage, colour space and register accuracy. With standards for semicommercial production not yet specified, it is difficult to manage the expectations of print buyers, he says. A draft standard should be ready for implementation next year. Recent installations and tests had seen high-speed UV at NZZ, St Gallen, ‘Österreich’ and most recently ‘Le Monde’, while Goss’s FPS technology was equipped for heatset at Newry in Northern Ireland. In addition, heatset was being combined with waterless offset at the KBA-equipped De Persgroep site in Belgium. In Portugal, dissatisfaction with coldset quality led ‘Expresso’ to switch to its print contract to heatset for the same price, the move accompanied by a switch from Berliner to A3. “Suddenly new advertisers have approached them and the paper is carrying more colourful infographics,” he says. And in San Francisco (USA), Roularta (Belgium) and Chennai (India) new projects have evolved which include dryer for each tower. Werfel says publishing and printing are developing into different businesses, and the move to semicommercial has been based on business developments and calls for flexibility in prepress, press and finishing. “We have identified three separate business models – as a separate profit centre, as a joint venture, and through outsourced production ... although it can sometime be hard to find a business partner,” he says. A Canadian printing company which has partnered with 50 plants, is moving into the US market where the average age of presses is over 24 years. In San Francisco, a single plant will replace three equipped with 40-year-old flexo presses. “Print centres could develop independently from newspapers, especially in high-population regions and later into the centralised development of mixed heatset and coldset plants. “But who can that partner be ... especially outside the US? Perhaps press or paper suppliers in a ‘build-operate-transfer’ model,” Werfel muses. Later there were overseas perspectives from two German press manufacturers: manroland sales executive vice president Peter Kuisle says the US trend to smaller formats is spreading to Asia, while KBA Beijing regional sales manager Andreas Friedrich sees an opportunity to bring enhanced profits from adding value print and finishing. Kuisle says free editions may be “another model” rather than the future for newspapers. A session on cost savings from automatic workflows included contributions from Comyan’s Peter Resele and Javier Rueda of Spain’s Redprint, which prints 40 national and regional titles. A new system there has addressed problems including planning colour in tabloid editions of up to 126 pages across the different capacities of six or seven printing plants. Resele turned to automated workflows for publishing to new media, describing an open system and content engine developed over ten years. A library of interfaces has been developed to connect a variety of systems and Resele says new ones now take less time to build. The issues were brought into sharp perspective with a comment from moderator Cyril Pereira – “people are sick and tired of this IT crap,’ he says – before a panel now including Stephen Kirk of ABB Switzerland and Christian Finder of ppi moved to integrated production control systems. What works in one country may not work elsewhere ... and to emphasise the differences between markets, contributions from two of Japan’s publishing giants: Hiroshi Hamasaki of ‘Asahi Shimbun’ talked about a project to enhance quality and gain International Colour Quality Club membership. Daily morning and evening editions total 13 million copies. The workload includes a further 16 million of weeklies, spread across 24 plants equipped with TKS, Goss and Mitsubishi presses. Developments have included FM screening and CTP has been adopted at most sites. A measurement patch had been included and copies were sent twice a month for ‘sensory evaluation’ But Hamasaki says problems arose because the greyer recycled newsprint used – which “suits” local preferences – made it impossible to meet ICQC criteria. The presentation brought vigorous discussion: While Ifra’s Werfel was sympathetic to problems, other including moderator (and former ‘South China Morning Post’ operations director) Cyril Pereira was not. Concluding that the publisher had changed its paper stock purely for the purposes of the competition, he asked whether PANPA specifications were being followed. “Of course not,” came the reply. Later Mariko Horikawa of ‘Yomiuri Shimbun’ research and development operations talked about his company’s online developments, including a bulletin board which received two-and-a-half million hits a day. The vast publisher has 5500 staff including 128 in its digital media bureau. ‘Crown jewel’ is a web magazine for women called ‘Ote-komachi’ launched in 1996 into a crowded marketplace and now close to being its leader. A bulletin board for women launched in 1999 accounts for 97.6 per cent of the site’s views and attracts 4000 submissions a day. Users stay an average of 72 seconds, compared with an average 10.3 seconds for the publisher’s sites. Horikawa says the site prospers because of its categories, trustworthiness and easy-to-read index ... features which are both useful and fun. It also represents the man’s point of view with a ‘guys’ side’ category and compliments from users who say the site helped them to understand women better. Latest development is a mobile service available via three carriers for 105 yen ($1.01) a month. Mark Challinor, now managing director of the UK’s G8wave and a board member of INMA, was back to tackle the mobile revolution in more detail. Last year, there were 3.3 billion mobile phone, enough for half the global population, just 26 years after the first service was launched, with another 1.5 billion expected to bring penetration to 75 per cent within four years. “Now the issue for children growing up is not whether they will get a mobile, but when,” he says. The spin-off has been the growth of mobile marketing, with 89 per cent of major brands expected to market by mobile by the end of this year. Some 40 per cent have already used SMS, and half are expected to devote a quarter of their marketing budgets to the medium by the end of this year. Challinor says a mobile media applications market has emerged as a result, with wireless carriers deploying next-generation handsets and high value-added services. He explained a new mobile cash service being trialled in Boulder, Colorado, where users – among them school pupils – pay for goods from a prepaid account. He says media companies should try the new technologies, but not expect significant near-term revenues. He advocates commitment to a strategy with the appointment of a mobile expert in a senior position and “a few quick hits” to drive interaction. Key topics for the coming year will be ease-of-use, and growth in infotainment taking over from that in personalisation. And in a parallel main session, marketing head of Singapore Press Holdings’ new media division Leslie Fong told how the publisher was working with technologies such as Zapcides and Reactrix. “We want to stick our flag on sites and keep adding verticals to existing sites,” he says. New online initiatives had included targetted video commercials inserted into web pages, while a feature on ‘15 ways to pick up a member of the opposite sex’ had proved popular. In February, SPH had introduced internet TV with an ‘edgy’ service called Razor TV. The company has also ventured into the online directory business launching and a joint venture with Schibsted. “Were not in the same class and Google and yahoo, but believe we should not stand idly by and give them a free run,” Fong says. He says SPH’s next step will be to bundle the assets and opportunities as a one-stop-shop in order to offer advertisers a complete solution. “There really is no alternative but to move in step with the rapidly-moving landscape.” Amid publishers’ doubts, there was nothing quite like a little confidence to round out a morning’s sessions: Angela Mackay, ‘Financial Times’ executive director and Asia-Pacific head, had it in spades, referring several times to the publisher’s superiority in content. Having found the move from an editorial role three years ago “exciting and daunting”, she had learned quickly that only the most nimble and adaptive would survive and credited the 120-year-old masthead with “a few nifty moves for an old girl”. Mackay says a digitally-literate population has changed the nature of media. “Online is no longer a sideshow ... it’s mate and moving into mainstream.” People prefer to get news free and prefer electronic forms of free delivery, she says. But she stresses the difficulties of keeping abreast of the digital generation: “We’ve learned the digital language, but we’re not fluent,” she says. “We’re immigrants but our children are digi-natives. Unless we understand and respond, they’ll lose interest in us.” She says the story is not as bad for print as some suggest: “It may have lost its grip on classified, but it’s still the natural home for display.” Referring to the publication of the first popular newspapers in 1702 and Asia’s long publishing pedigree, she added, “with smart adaptation, we can avoid elimination.” Opportunities for advertisers included a “pretty buoyant” conference sector, while other initiatives had helped the publisher “buy growth”. While not liking the idea of giving away content, the FT was using the concept to build a subscriber base for its site. Pre-conference workshops included sessions on reorganising newsrooms for multimedia – a topic on which Ifra has hands-on experience through its involvement with projects including Telegraph Media in London, UK, and through its Newsplex project. Leading these was Sarah Schantin-Williams, an anthropologist who focused on change and conflict in media organisations before joining Ifra. Her husband, Dietmar Schantin has been director of the now Darmstadt-based Newsplex since late 2005. Themes included the emphasis on quality content and future scenarios for the media, and continued with coverage of Ifra’s WhereNews? research and contributions from Steve Yelvington (Morris DigitalWorks) and design guru Mario Garcia. After the conference attention turned to young reader development, led by the ‘Bakersfield Californian’s Mary Lou Fulton, NAA director of audience development Diane Hockenberry and Sydney design consultant Peter Ong. A busy exhibition brought technologies from all over the world to Macau, and in addition a number of vendors joined delegates. Among exhibitors from Australia were Atlantic Syndication, Pongrass Publishing Systems, Realview Technologies and Serendipity Software. Other exhibitors included ABB, Adobe Systems, Agfa Graphics, Atex, Core Media, Denex Systems Technology, Escenic, Goss International, HUP, Idab Wamac, KnowledgeView, Newspaper Direct, New Proimage, Pressmart Media, Quark, SoftCare, TKS and Tolerans. gx • Next year’s Publish Asia will be in Thailand in April, the date and location still to be confirmed
Sections: Columns & opinion


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