Event review: How publishers are succeeding in the digital transformation to the cloud

We discussed the digital transformation for publishers with high-calibre guests. A review.

On 5 and 6 October 2022, Forward Publishing hosted the first meeting for employees from the publishing, consulting and technology sectors. The digital transformation and its challenges took centre stage: how can publishers and editorial teams position themselves in a culturally, strategically and technologically stable way in order to successfully manage the shift from print to digital?

Over 60 participants attended the event on Wednesday and Thursday at the Spielfeld event location in Berlin and experienced lectures, panel discussions and presentations. We summarise the items on the programme.

Is there a perfect balance between range and subscription?

To change a publishing house and promote the switch from print to digital, it is not enough to simply introduce new technologies. The culture of a publishing house must adapt accordingly and employees need a comprehensible idea of the goal of the internal change processes.

The first day of the event focussed on the necessary cultural change: the transformation of thinking from the entrenched structures of recent decades to a dynamic process of permanent change.

Why a digital mentality in publishing houses is crucial for society and democracy
Sascha Lobo

In a rousing keynote speech, digital expert Sascha Lobo explained why it is so important to develop a feel for digital changes: "Because before we have even penetrated a 'new' digital development, it is already dying down again."

Instead, publishers must try to identify "this one data stream" that will enable them to act as pioneers and remain stable in the future. Publishers, editorial offices and newspapers are needed: "Without you, a democracy is inconceivable," Lobo emphasised.


Publishing in transition: the path to a new identity
Mario Goy, Transformation Manager, CORE SE
Maximilian Degenkolbe, Head of Digital News Products, Aschendorff Medien

Changing customer demand, tougher competition and technological innovations are also posing challenges for established publishing houses. Mario Goy presented strategies for suitable modernisation measures that not only include technological steps, but also enable the transformation into a modern media company with data-driven B2C and B2B offerings.

The publishing house Aschendorff Medien has already been undergoing this transformation for some time. The technological implementation of the strategy presented is being achieved with Forward Publishing. Maximilian Degenkolbe, who repeatedly contributed practical experience to the presentation, summarised: "We are no longer a simple newspaper publisher, we are now a media company."


Digital product development with users at the centre: "Profit Centre Journalism" project at Mittelbayerische Zeitung
Anja Horn, Managing Director, Einhorn Solutions

Anja Horn's company Einhorn Solutions was recognised as one of the top design agencies by industry magazine kressPro in 2021. In her presentation, she will talk about her experiences in the digital transformation of content and target groups at Mittelbayerische Zeitung. The aim was to convert readers to subscribers with digital quality journalism.

This requires a fundamental change in the digital revenue model: the users themselves are suddenly at the centre of product development. But where is the target group and what information needs does it actually have? Based on the results, solutions were developed in the form of digital content formats that build on the publisher's regional expertise.


Publishing Barometer 2022 - Summary of the key points of the study and subsequent discussion
Christopher Zippert - Marketing & Sales, Forward Publishing

The "Digital News Publishing Barometer 2022" is an explorative and qualitative study that uncovers fundamental developments in the German-language news publishing market. 18 publishing experts from publishing houses and the publishing environment answered a key question-based interview on the digital transformation in the publishing business.

At the Forward Publishing Event 2022, Christopher Zippert presented the five core findings of the study, which are well known but have not yet been summarised in a clearly understandable overall picture.

  • Digital expertise must be expanded
  • The will to constantly change is essential
  • A holistic approach to strategy and implementation is necessary
  • Permanent, proactive thinking must run through all areas of the publishing house
  • Good, competent leadership is essential

Anja Horn, Maximilian Degenkolbe and Christopher Zippert discussed these results with our moderator, Barbara Josef.

Day 2: Future security in publishing - tools, processes & products

Technology makes an important contribution to future-proofing publishing houses. Old, inefficient IT is giving way to modular software and infrastructures that can be easily scaled. The second day of the event focussed on solutions for publishers, experience reports and the implementation strength that results from the correct analysis of data.

Tool-driven change: 5 lessons on how a technical project changed an entire newsroom
Ornella Giau, UX Designer, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Hannes Vollmuth, Managing Editor Digital Strategy, Süddeutsche Zeitung

What does technology actually do to a newsroom? Ornella Giau and Hannes Vollmuth provided exclusive insights into the large newsroom of the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Why is it important to find your own "super users"? The culture of "taking along" is directly applied here: With clear communication, distributed tasks and a few pioneers in the editorial team who support everyone else, the change process will be a success.


Forward Publishing: Toolset for the future-proof, digital newsroom
Netcetera, Livingdocs, Sternwald

Forward Publishing is a cloud publishing infrastructure for newspaper publishers and digital newsrooms. As a SaaS solution for digital publishing, it includes Livingdocs (editor/headless CMS), huGO+ (DAM/print interface), a multisite delivery layer and other best-of-breed services from a comprehensive partner network. Forward Publishing is backed by the Swiss IT company Netcetera as general contractor with its partners Livingdocs and Sternwald.

The concept and how the initiative works was explained in detail at the event. A demonstration of the installation at Bauer Media showed how everything works together in a large publishing infrastructure. Sternwald presented additional details of the digital asset management huGo+ and Livingdocs used the example of NZZ to explain how a successful integration process took place in a large publishing house.


Modularity as a flexibility booster in publishing
Robert Dönges, Partner & Integration Manager Desk-Net

The new Desk-Net was the topic on stage afterwards. During the presentation, Robert Dönges emphasised the interface flexibility of the topic planning software: Only as a modular, flexible system is publishing software fit for the future.


Speed, Agility and Cost: Building a foundation for revenue growth through subscriptions and billing in an ever-changing landscape
Ana Lobb, VP Media & Publishing, Aptitude Software

Ana Lobb from Aptitude Software flew in from London especially to give a presentation on subscription management. She also focussed on users: every reader is different and therefore needs different offers and approaches. Experiments are just as important as a good data basis in order to retain subscribers in the long term.


Implementation strength as a future driver for publishers: the findings from the DRIVE data project
Dr Christoph Mayer, Managing Director, SCHICKLER

A good data basis is essential for content-related and strategic decisions. This was impressively demonstrated in the presentation by SCHICKLER Managing Director Dr Christoph Mayer. After all, many publishers who believe they are already working "digital first" are not: when are users particularly active and are the editorial processes adapted accordingly?

Often - as the data from the DRIVE project, in which over 20 publishers are participating, shows - print continues to set the pace and not digital. The predominant metrics, such as page views and subscriptions, are also rarely effective: user engagement, i.e. the time they spend on the website, determines whether subscriptions are taken out.

That's why "media time", the cumulative time that users have spent on the site or app in the last seven days, is much more meaningful. This makes it possible to make very good predictions about possible conversions, but also about upcoming cancellations.

Summary of the Forward Publishing Event 2022

In terms of content, there was a wide range of topics: from the effects of a lack of digital mentality on society, local case studies and the Barometer study to practical issues and suitable publishing solutions, everything was covered. The discussions during the breaks ensured a lively exchange and good contacts.

We look forward to the next event in 2023, a new edition of the Digital News Publishing Barometer, and hope to welcome you too.