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Digital Innovation in Publishing

Established print media brands are facing unprecedented pressures to innovate and reinvent themselves; failure to do so may mean these institutions will become future HBS case studies (and not the good kind).

In real dollars terms, Newspapers are generating the same amount of advertising dollars as they did in 1950 (having lost more than $45B in print advertising). That's not to say they aren't innovating, in fact, they've created $5B in new revenue through digital advertising. But the need to innovate faster is a real necessity.

The challenge is how to innovate at the speed of the digital economy when our systems, employees and processes are all set-up for a print production cycle (think days, weeks or months). In my experience it begins with adopting a simple operating philosophy centered around one word -"iterate."

Whatever you do, don't try to come up with THE solution, but rather set up an iterative innovation around the notion of advancing the cause, rather than solving the big problem. Too often, I walk into a room where the team is discussing all the reasons why they shouldn't do something, rather than focusing on just doing it, breaking it down and managing through the next steps. My experience has shown me that if you want to move more quickly, the way to do so is through lots of smaller steps rather than trying something monumental.

Often, in product development, this begins by building a simple prototype of the idea. Nothing sophisticated or grandiose, just something visual that everyone can understand and latch on to and build upon.

AP Mobile started with this prototype approach. It began in a room of technology and business naysayers ("we tried mobile before and it failed"), and disbelievers ("the industry will never work together"). We "ignored" them and pressed on building a simple prototype of the product in a few weeks. We then flew out to Apple and demonstrated this prototype and left with developer keys in hand and a few months later the team was standing on stage with Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone app for the news industry. A company that had never had a B2C presence, today, has tens of millions of subscribers getting breaking news directly through the AP Mobile app.

Innovation in publishing is hard to do and a constant uphill battle. But if your battle charge is "Iterate or Die", you'll find yourself winning battle after battle and eventually the tides of the war will change for the better.