10 Questions with re\VISION Boston Speaker John Wilpers

A 40-plus year veteran of the media industry, John Wilpers will join Karen McGrane at our upcoming re\VISION Boston event on March 5th. I had the opportunity to talk with John about his extensive experience in the industry, his thoughts on the future of publishing and what he'll be covering during his presentation at re\VISION.

Tell me about your professional background.

I've been in media since 1972. I've worked for metro dailies, small rural weeklies, websites, international newspaper groups, and magazines, I've been at AOL, and started my own consulting company where I recruited high-quality bloggers for major media companies like Scripps, Christian Science Monitor, L.A. Times and so on. Now I do consulting with newspapers and magazines around the world for a company called Innovation Media Consulting out of Barcelona, Spain.

What have been some of the keys to your success in the publishing industry over the years?

On a personal level, I had to teach myself how to survive and thrive in the social and new media world. A lot of my colleagues didn't. They have pension plans, but I don't have that luxury.

On an industry level, I think 24/7 publishing has really been a savior for me and a lot of people in the industry, though there would be people that would dispute that. While there are fewer traditional journalists, there are far more people creating content today than ever before. We just have to adapt.

Besides, if we journalists don't change or adapt, readers will just leave us behind. In many cases that has already happened with publications like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post that have come in and left legacy publishers sucking wind.

The publishing world has changed, what would you argue has changed for the better, and what would you argue has changed for the worse?

For the better: We now have so many more ways for storytellers to tell stories in much richer and more varied ways. This means journalists must learn how to tell stories in more multimedia and more immediate, 24/7 ways. If they do, there are more opportunities than ever before for storytellers.

On the downside: The dumbing down of content. The Twitterverse is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. You have to be smart with how you consume it and use it. It can be a valuable early warning system for news and another way to add lots of new voices to the creation and discussion of news.

Also on the downside, it's been a tough transition period for legacy media companies that are trying to figure out a new business model. There are examples of legacy media companies making a successful transition (think Atlantic Monthly), and some publishing companies already have or will very soon see digital revenues surpass print. So, there is hope for the nimble, smart, and innovative publishers out there.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing in the publishing industry today?

Video is really hot, and that's proven in the content consumption numbers. I think it is close to 70 percent of all content consumed online is video. So publishing companies must learn how to create, distribute and promote video, both long form and short form. The Atlantic for instance, uses their own staffers to create short 1 - 3 minute videos. BuzzFeed just bought a studio lot in California and hired a 100 people to create their videos. That is where a lot of the money and resources are being focused today.

Another area where I'm seeing innovations isn't even print- or digital-related. It's events. Companies like Condé Nast can charge thousands of dollars for events and still have a huge waiting list.

There is also a surge in e-newsletters. Publishers are communicating and engaging with their audience on a more frequent basis through e-newsletters.

And we can't forget mobile. It still is a little worrisome, though, because many publishers, even in 2015, still don't have a mobile-ready version of their website. This is costing them big time, not just in readership, but most importantly these publications don't have any mobile-optimized ads.

At this point, events, videos, e-newsletters, and mobile are where a lot of innovation is taking place.

If you were running a publishing house, what would you do to secure a strong future?

I would optimize the site, the content and the advertising for mobile. I would create an events division. I would train my advertising staff in programmatic advertising. I would hire a native advertising team that is as good as my editorial staff. I would hire an anti-digital ad fraud company to monitor my inventory and my traffic because ad fraud affects anywhere from 10 to 60 percent of traffic and advertisements. I would launch niche publications within my publishing company to address profitable narrow niches within my broader subject turf. Lastly, I would either train my current staff in video production, or if the money was there, hire a video team.

Why did the arrival of the Internet catch so many publications by surprise?

When the Internet first arrived, everywhere I went people said, "Oh, this Internet thing is just a fad." They were caught by surprise with their eyes wide open; they just chose to ignore the writing on the wall. The evidence was hitting them upside the head 24/7.

Now, publications are much wiser to the changes in technology. But they still don't move with the quickness that native web companies do. Life changes on the Internet in a nanosecond and the problem is too many of these legacy media companies move too slowly.

If you look at the transition of content consumption from desktop to mobile, it is stunning. Bells should be going off at this point for media companies. Mobile isn't going to be the only platform, but it is going to be the dominant platform. And these media groups need to start thinking differently, because their readers are definitely acting differently.

Is the publishing industry ready to innovate for mobile?

Some are. But too many of them haven't even optimized their website for mobile, never mind their advertising. One of the simplest things they can do is take advantage of geolocation and serve ads -- or even content -- to readers by location. Very few publishers have taken advantage of all the technological properties of mobile. I will explore this topic more in depth at re\VISION Boston in March.

Tell us about your latest book.

My book, "Innovations in Magazines Media World Report," is dedicated to briefing executives, advertising directors, and editors on the hottest, most successful innovative practices in print and digital publishing around the world.

This year we are narrowing down our focus to look at just 10 themes. It will explore: Advertising, Content, Data, e-Newsletters, Events, Mobile, Print, Social Media, Video, and some fun off-beat things that media organizations are doing.

Do you think more immersive multimedia storytelling has a place in the future in media?

Absolutely. It isn't going to solve all the problems that magazines face today, but it is something that newspapers and magazines need to do more of since they are no longer the delivery vehicle for breaking news. Breaking news is now a commodity so what we have to do is bring meaning, depth and understanding to stories after they break. That's the kind of work that will differentiate the companies that succeed from the companies that fail.

What will you be speaking about at re\VISION Boston and why should those in the publishing industry attend?

I'll be giving a rapid-fire, eye-opening survey of the hottest, most successful innovations in media that will restore your faith in the future of publishing. I'm going to take the contents of ten 8,000 word packages about innovation and condense thermal into 30-minutes. It will be a whirlwind trip through the best innovations in publishing.

To hear John Wilpers talk, register for re\VISION Boston. Connect with John via twitter: @johnwilpers.

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