Data Drives
Data Drives

Over the past number of months, Big Data has been one of those big topics of conversation at every publishing conference I’ve attended. The use of analytics to drive marketing isn’t a new concept by any means, but it has become a relatively new tactic for driving newspaper and magazine content, reach, and engagement.

Many publishers are now off hiring analysts to swim through the seas of data being collected when they should be capitalising on technology to help make dollars and sense of it.

The publisher’s dilemma

Since the “big bang” invention of the printing press, magazines and newspapers have evolved at a steady, but tortoise-ly, slow pace. Even the digital and mobile disruptions did little to revolutionise the industry. Except for a few progressive publishers, most digital publications today are still just PDF-like flat replicas of their printed versions.

In stark contrast is the radical transformation we’ve witnessed in readers – a phenomenon that has taken the industry by storm and propelled new media companies like BuzzFeed, Reddit, Vice, Vox, Medium, and, most recently, Snapchat into the portfolios of investors and, more importantly, the eyeballs of today’s fickle, yet fastidious news readers.

As I look at this publisher-audience disconnect, I am reminded of an insightful book called The Innovator’s Dilemma. Through a number of big business examples, the author shares how the darlings of one decade can quickly become the deadbeats of the next because they can’t get beyond serving the needs of their installed base of customers to innovate for future growth.

The book is not at all about publishing; it’s about the high-tech industry, but the parallels are scarily similar.

So what has this got to do with Big Data? A lot!

But I’m not talking about Big Data from the perspective of that business analyst who works down the hall from you crunching numbers; I’m talking about Big Dynamic Data that is generated in massive amounts in real time and analysed at warp speed to create highly sophisticated content solutions for publishers.

For the media industry to not merely survive but thrive in a world where everyone seems to be a publisher, magazine and newspaper executives must rise above the “buzz” and exploit the power of behavioural analytics to attract Millennials with a more contemporary presentation format that facilitates frictionless discovery of content curated by the crowd.

Reading Map: real-time behavioural analytics for e-publishing

Reading Map uses complex real-time tracking techniques to monitor the time 30 million users spend consuming content in PressReader’s publishers’ digital editions.

It measures the actual reading time for every article, advertisement, cartoon, column, and image in all 3,500+ magazines and newspapers (whether they are read in a browser or mobile app). It then analyses the data in real time to give publishers valuable insights into how well specific content within their digital publications retains their readers’ attention.

SmartFlow: frictionless discovery of content curated by the crowd

An added alternative to the replica layout favoured by traditional magazine and newspaper readers, SmartFlow is an intelligent content presentation and discovery engine that appeals to digital natives because it integrates their personalised content choices (e.g. topics, publications, or specific sections of publications) with a virtually unlimited horizontal stream of content. This content has been curated for them by other readers – not by clicks and shares, but by their engagement with the content.

Using the reading time and behavioural data generated by Reading Map, SmartFlow continually modifies its newsfeed of stories in real time to ensure the highest quality, most interesting, and captivating content is always presented to a reader – quality that is based on an article’s ability to retain other readers’ attention, not on what editors think.

Then, to ensure the content presentation is optimised for any device and any browser, SmartFlow uses a predictive algorithm that builds, on the fly, all possible layouts of the content for whatever device a reader uses, tests each of them against a device/browser’s capabilities, and then chooses the best one for that reader (it’s powered by HTML5, in case you were wondering).

As one can imagine, with 30 million readers, the amount of data being processed and interpreted is astronomical.

The bottom line

Using Reading Map, Big Data publishers gain a better understanding of what content retains readers’ interest and how to maximise the ROI for every page in their publication through more optimal combinations of editorial and advertising content.

And because SmartFlow displays content based on quality, not masthead, it helps level the playing field for smaller publishers who often struggle to compete with big brands in an overly crowded publishing landscape. When it comes to the big brands, SmartFlow helps them reach the largely brand-agnostic millennials.

But what’s really important for long-term profitability of publishers is that this Big Dynamic Data duo offers today’s news readers a seamless, frictionless discovery mechanism that engages them up to 10 times longer than typical flat replica editions and news Web sites.