Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Carolyn McCall was spot on this morning as she put online communities at the centre of her address to the AOP conference.

It might not sound like rocket science any more, but it’s surprising how few traditional publishers have made much progress when it comes to building online communities.

What the GMG chief executive said was that digital business that fail to embrace community will be relegated as content providers to aggregators and search engines, effectively the hard shoulder of the digital publishing revolution.

That doesn't sound like much of a future.

Part and parcel of that is user-generated content and getting that right. There is a long way to go on this front. There are some nice early foretasters of where this might go, but it is still a long road ahead.

For instance if I was running a travel site, I'd be having round-the-world bloggers and lots of them, with appropriate sponsors, which would generate its own large community. It could be huge.

There are lots of ways to create community, and part of that is, as McCall also said today, about changing the way you think about your audience.

Internet start-ups like Myspace, Bebo, YouTube and Flickr don't think or talk about users, they only talk or think about community. How to get it, how to grow it and how to involve it in your business.

But community is only one part of the puzzle. It needs to be combined with the shifting geography and multimedia.

The geography is something we've all seen. It’s not about the UK web or the US web or the Euro web, it’s a global thing. For Brand Republic, for everyone else.

For the Guardian, McCall said it is about being the leading global liberal voice on the web. That's their goal and you can see them doing it and achieving it. That isn't something they can do in print, but online is a different story.

That she said was about changing the way that publishers define themselves as businesses. About changing the model.

She went on to set out five challenges

The first was about staff. Building the brand talent – using the people you have and making sure they are all onboard your digital project.

"If your staff don't get it, everything will get stuck and will not move forward," McCall said.

The second challenge was about staying close to your users. Your community. This is all about listening because you will find that they know things about your business that you do not.

The third challenge she mentioned was innovation. Too often, traditional media publishers do not innovate.

Then we heard Tim Weller, the chief executive and founder of financial publisher Incisive, say "creativity is great, but plagiarism is far faster".

Somehow I think he both missed and underline the point. Creativity and innovation is the way to grow and develop, it is also where the leaders are and not the also rans.

Fourthly, McCall listed software development as something that publishers need to excel at. It’s often overlooked. If your developers aren't any good, neither will your product be.

A vast digital strategy falls to nothing if you do not have the developers. Oh, don't we all know this.

The problems is it is a step change for most publishers, but it has to be done.

Lastly, her fifth challenge was driving revenue growth. For that you just need to refer back to

Shifting geography

Get those three right and you will get your revenues.


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