The Risks of A Hybrid Approach to Newspaper IT Investments

For newspapers, especially larger ones, managing IT costs is critical and given the complexity of producing a print product and adding digital distribution on top today, it is far more complex than ever. And more complex than almost any other business. So the temptation to create a hybrid mix of old and new technologies is very tempting. It is also likely going to cost you a lot more.
What Is Hybrid Approach?
This is, quite simply, mixing old and new. Like nursing that ancient circulation management database built on IBM or Oracle that neither company supports anymore, and forcing it to to integrate with a new digital CMS. The business risk of losing that data is incredible. Then there’s the cost of custom development to make things talk to each other. And they often break.
We’ve seen more than a few larger publishers take this approach, often because they think they’re building on what are termed “complimentary assets” of older to newer technologies. Unfortunately, for newspapers this often isn’t the case. The other primary reason is budgets. But with this approach a penny saved today is going to cost $10 tomorrow.
The Print / Digital Gap Problem
Added to this challenge is the gap between print and digital publishing tools and workflows. Print newspapers are notoriously complicated to bring to press and while there have been some improvements, it’s not likely to get much easier. Newspapers often use an interesting mix of InDesign, Quark or other tools for the print layout then have another CMS for digital publishing. The gap is that no digital CMS truly exports or integrates well with the print tools, so some kind of dance has to be performed. Ad layouts in digital are different, but when everything is digital, it’s a lot easier. We think there’s a business model in this gap.
Most newspapers that we talk to, and some software developers for digital tools, all feel that print will die and that’s what they’re waiting for. We don’t think print will die. Shrink? Yes. Change? Yes. But not die.
Planning Forward
If you’re considering a new digital CMS, take a step back and look at all the other aspects of your system. Circulation, audience, advertising, marketing, financials. If you’re about to make a major investment, audit your whole system (we’ll get into this in another post), then take a hard look at how things mesh together. A good CIO or IT department head will be solution-oriented. If they constantly tell you it can’t be done, then they’re not very competent.
A major fear of any company making a major technology investment is how fast it will become obsolete. All technologies become obsolete. Always. There is simply no “better time” to invest in new technology. Fortunately today, the risks can be better mitigated and investments can be longer-term. This is due to the cost of processors and storage being far lower, a more modular approach to server hardware, Cloud-based solutions and software being increasingly built with API’s, allowing greater interconnectivity with new software and other tools.
It can be tempting to take the hybrid road and sometimes the budget truly isn’t there to do otherwise. But it is incredibly risky and more often than not, is going to cost a lot more down the road.
As you look to invest in new technologies from a CMS to circulation databases and just even productivity tools, be careful to ensure they’re flexible. By this, we mean that they aren’t locked away in black boxes and won’t play nice with other tools. The most important three letter acronym is “API” which stands for Application Protocol Interface. An API enables different tools to talk to each other and play nice in the sandbox. If you’re looking at a company that uses the waterfall methodology to develop its software and doesn’t have API’s…run away. Fast.

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