Dr Liz Marchant’s Digital Lunchtime Lecture - Part 2 (#DLL14)

by Elaine K. Phillips

The first in a series of lunchtime lectures on digital publishing.  Guest speakers from the industry share their strategies for publishing in the digital age.

Dr Liz Marchant gives us a quick nod, brushing back her short blond hair. “Any questions?”

All around the room, we publishing postgrads stare at our notes. Breathe, we tell ourselves. She talked so fast! Could we possibly have scribbled it all down?

A few rows up, one brave hand slides into the air. ‘What about pricing?’ a classmate asks. ‘Have you seen a tactic that seems to work better than others?’

Good question: a hot topic, and a secret we all need to crack for our digital product proposals. We lean forward, fingers on keyboards, but Liz just chuckles. ‘Not at all,’ she says.

Of course we knew how she would answer, newbies though we are—because if there’s one constant in this kaleidoscope of digital publishing, it’s that the colours shift by the nanosecond. Even experts like Liz, Pearson’s head of science publishing, have more questions than answers, for the simple reason that today’s answer may be irrelevant tomorrow. 

In such a wild world, it’s easy to fall back on copying others. But as Liz points out, such tactics—whether for pricing, content strategy, or marketing—are a bad plan.

‘Publishing is a small world,’ she says. ‘We all see what everyone else does. A lot of people eye their competitors and say, “See what they’ve done? Let’s do it, too!” without realizing that their competitor has already decided said strategy doesn’t work and has moved on.”

While keeping up with the news is certainly key, Liz backs up what Nicola Timbrell and Helena Markou said in class this morning: the best digital products don’t chase the latest trends, but build on solid consumer research.

“Just as in print publishing, you’re responsible for the product from concept to delivery,” Liz says. But since digital product development is so expensive, she explains, “you’re far more likely to waste a ton money on a digital product that doesn’t work than on a print one.”

Thankfully, Liz doesn’t bow out on such a dour note, but lists three concrete questions to investigate while still in the conceptual stage of digital product development:

1. Who is the product for? How can we segment the market? How comfortable is this segment with technology? Are we looking at existing customers who need to be transitioned to a new product?

2. What problems could we solve? For instance, do GCSE teachers need to cut the time they spend planning lessons? Or do they need help supporting high-achievers?

3. What do they don’t know that they need? Would those over-achievers love to revise on their mobile phones? Or would primary schoolteachers appreciate an app to help them organize class field trips?

The only way to answer these questions well, Liz emphasizes, is to get out there and spend time with your customers. Conduct surveys; gather focus groups; sit in on classes. If you don’t, you’ll ‘start building something you perceive that they’d buy,’ Liz warns. ‘Not something they actually want.’

Only when you’ve dug deep into your market segment can you craft a ‘compelling solution’ to your customer’s problem—and contribute an innovative idea to the digital scene.

‘When you really understand what your customer needs, you may find that the solution is something quite different,’ Liz says. ‘Something no one expected.’

About the author of this article

The former editor of Victorian Homes and Flea Market Décor magazines, Elaine is currently an MA Publishing student at Oxford Brookes University and an intern at Bodleian Library Publishing. She’s easily reached via Twitter (@elainekphillips) and would love to hear your thoughts about digital publishing.

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12 Feb 2014 around 9am

Last edited: 11 03 2014