Outsell Predicts 'Age of Experience'

The beginning of a new decade may feel like a fresh start for some, but for many publishers, 2010 is simply another year of trying to figure out how to survive in a changing, sometimes crumbling, industry. Research and advisory firm Outsell, Inc. offers strategies for dealing with the current environment in its report, "Information Industry Outlook 2010: A New Dawn, New Day, New Decade," which was released in January.In the outlook report, Outsell lists 10 predictions for the year, 30 companies to watch, and essential actions for publishers. But the report boils down to one overriding point: Publishers must offer experiences, not just content, in order to thrive.

"We're entering the age of experience, and the world belongs to those who create a great one," said Anthea Stratigos, co-founder and CEO of Outsell, upon release of the report.

As part of the age of experience, the report includes as one prediction for 2010 that "APIs and portable content will be more important than standalone solutions. Publishers and providers will have to open workflow solutions and environments to offer open API-based access to content. ... It will be important to keep content portable, allowing users to mix and match to create their own dashboards, desktops, or displays, looking more like Facebook walls than a vendor's or employer's portal page."

Google already does this for the masses, allowing users to create iGoogle pages with customized content and designs, among other offerings. Marc Strohlein, chief agility officer for Outsell and a co-author of the report, calls Google "masterful" at creating a bare infrastructure that works for both users and API developers. It thrives by offering a platform on which other content can be layered.

Apple, although certainly a leader in portable content and a company that offers a stellar user experience, comes at it from the opposite perspective. "They tend to create a little bit more of a closed environment and want to control every aspect of that environment," explains Strohlein. Apple has had to open up, to some extent, through its App Store, for example. But it is much more limiting as to what it will allow. "I'm frankly surprised that they have been able to get away with it. It's kind of antithetical to what the rest of the world is doing, but it shows how well they are doing it," says Strohlein.

For publishers looking to get into the API or mobile space, he said the trick is to ask customers what they want and then base your response not only on what they say but also on how they act. "People don't know what they want, and more often than not what they think they want isn't the right answer," he says. "Observe users, don't just ask them what they want, but understand what they do."According to Strohlein, companies doing remarkable work in this space include Factiva, which launched the Factiva Developer's Kit, an XML-based API, in 2002; Hoover's, which created an API that allows customers to use its information in a way that makes sense to the client; and LexisNexis, which allows clients to stream RSS feeds directly into SharePoint.

"I find a lot of publishers still don't recognize that their information doesn't stand on its own," says Strohlein. "If it's being used by specialists or managers, it's going to be combined at some point with other information. People increasingly are going to expect information to be delivered in ways that they can bring it into their environments and use it."

"Branding continues to be important but is no longer sufficient," he continues. "If you're a publisher, and you're relying on the fact that you've been around for 100 years, we don't think that's going to work." Instead, he points to Google as an excellent example of how providing a product or service that people know and like will create a brand over time.

"I think this year is going to be a really interesting year," says Strohlein, specifically citing projects such as the Time, Inc. and The Wonderfactory collaboration that showed how Sports Illustrated could be used in a tablet environment. The demo included myriad ways to customize the display and content, as well as a variety of ways for readers to use the content, including to create fantasy teams or to send photos from the magazine to friends. The advertising capabilities were robust, offering the opportunity to embed video and additional content within what appears in print as a one-page ad. "That thing just blew my mind. It's a demo, but the level of thought is just fascinating in terms of what this stuff has to look like moving forward," says Strohlein.

"There is not one path that each publishing company should take," Strohlein continues. His advice is simply to "take a little risk and maybe the outcome is not totally clear, but you play it out and see where it goes."