John Barnes: AOP chairman
John Barnes: AOP chairman
A view from John Barnes

Think BR: Polymorphic publishing - you heard it here first!

Forget cross-platform - new challenges mean publishers need to get polymorphic, writes John Barnes, AOP Chairman.

A lot of recent conference themes have concentrated on the subject of ‘what to build now’, but this implies that digital publishing is all about the technology and not about the audience and content. 

The phrase perfectly sums up the challenge and dilemma facing publishers as we all attempt to orientate our businesses in a fast changing digital landscape. 

The huge explosion in competing devices, operating systems and digital distribution channels, means digital consumers are increasing accessing and interacting with content on multi-screens and in many different combinations, often quite unique to them.

By concentrating on the technologies, we are over complicating the problem.

Yes technology poses challenges that need to be overcome, but fundamentally this move by consumers to a multi-screen life means publishers must think much more about content and what works where, and much less about Android vs iOS, or tablet vs web.

It is the intersection of content, technology and distribution, and framing the problem in this context does offer some answers to the question of what to build, and really suggests that the question to pose is ‘How should content be produced for different screens and distribution channels, and how can this increase reach and revenue?’ 

Several stories in the media this week aptly demonstrate this shift in thinking, and bring into focus potential solutions to the digital journey we have all embarked upon. 

The Guardian’s introduction of its iPad edition elegantly expresses this problem as designing for the medium and reminds us its website was deliberately created as something that was ‘of the internet’ and was a different medium to print.

Putting it in the context of this multi-screen world, the browser is firmly positioned as the place to search and access live material, whereas the iPad will be a different and more reflective kind of read.

There is no sense in trying to recreate the newspaper on the iPad, but the product on the tablet needs clarity: an interface, grid and hierarchy so that it can be of the medium.

Equally, the work of the Knight Mozilla partnership (@knightmozilla), which hosts the AOP’s first HTML 5 hack day (#aophd) this week, aims to support transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation and engage communities, ie, it’s not about the technology, it’s about the medium. 

By refocusing on this challenge and putting technological considerations more firmly into second place, publishers can play to their strengths, content, audiences and form factors, and create real value for their businesses by building synchronous product strategies that build audiences by offering variety and value across screen sizes and devices.

Finally, a third story from this week: a cross-platform ad production concept from Microsoft, which it calls Polymorphic Advertising, also points to this new direction.

The 'polymorphic' idea is that creative assets used in cross-platform campaigns will be able to take whatever shape is needed to reach consumers on different screens.

The tool, which will be HTML5 based, aims to let creatives focus on creative instead of production and make ad creation more efficient, therefore playing to the medium, not the technology.

Digital media owners should adopt this way of thinking to build better digital businesses; it is after all what we do best, and to pull it into focus, think ‘polymorphic publishing’ rather than cross-platform, and the innovation (and profits) will follow.

John Barnes, managing director, digital & tech at Incisive Media, and new AOP Chairman – in advance of the AOP’s flagship Digital Publishing Summit to be held at Westminster Bridge Park Plaza on 14 October 2011. Speakers include: Fru Hazlitt, managing director, commercial and online, ITV; Alisa Bowen, general Manager, The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, New York; Jakob Nielsen, managing director interaction, GroupM; and others.