Publishing Needs Visionary CTOs

After the music business, there is probably no industry more disrupted by the digital revolution than the publishing business. Newspapers and magazines are under serious duress as readers get increasingly used to reading their information online, and new ways to buy and sell things — like Craigslist, GroupOn and so on — decimate the ways print publications used to make money.

There are a couple articles today worth a look as insight to the ongoing changes in the publishing industry, and pointing to the necessity for a multi-faceted CTO to help navigate the evolution of that business.

First, The Wall Street Journal broke the news yesterday that Time Inc., the country’s largest magazine publisher, axed both its CTO and data chief, and would be totally overhauling its technology, product engineering and data organizations.

It’s interesting to note that the new head of digital, Jen Wong, will focus on things that may be beyond her control — she cites “page loading speed…to increase traffic,” but doesn’t mention how increased banners and other advertisements are slowing readers’ experience. It’s a tough balance to maintain, and if her focus is on expanding revenue, as she states, she’ll have her work cut out for her — especially as the use of ad blockers grows, particularly among the most desired reader demographics.

The other problem Wong will face is the matter of content, which is out of her hands. Time magazine and many of its sister brands are perceived as “Establishment media” at a time when only 6% of Americans say they trust the mainstream press. That’s something no tech exec will be able to solve, no matter their engineering wizardry.

That’s why a CTO in the field of publishing needs a feel for both tech and content. The greatest technology in the world can’t help your product if your target audience doesn’t inherently believe it’s of value. It’s very possible Time is just about running out.

We’re apparently not the only ones who think this. There’s also an article today from the New York Times’ former long-time advertising columnist Stuart Elliott about the publishing industry that’s a lot more apocalyptic, and this guy’s usually ahead of the curve. Touting the tragic Shakespearean headline “Good-night Sweet Print,”  Elliott chronicles a recent ad presentation from the publishing director of storied Hearst Magazines, who took 45 minutes before he even mentioned the word “print” and even then it was in the telling phrase:  "And yes, even print can work.”

So you can see where this is going. In the best of all possible worlds, the old-school publishing types would embrace technology-centric thinkers to help them reinvent a reader-friendly model — except in a world where readers are used to getting their content for free, we’re not sure anybody even knows what that is.

Do our entrepreneurs have any suggestions? We’re curious.

P.S. Check out Great Jones Street :)