Mary Beth Christie, online product management director at the Financial Times, said publishers had over 400 years to perfect the newspaper, and around 20 years to create the perfect website.
She said there were "learned behaviours" among readers to seek out newspapers, to navigate the content, and find the best way it works for an individual. But how does this translate to a multiplatform environment?
"We have to work harder than we ever had before to stay relevant," she said in a talk at the Monetising Media conference in London today, "and if we don’t change we do risk extinction in this world."
She said publishers could focus on building one package for all platforms, but it was unsure whether that would work for the next generation. She compared it to taking a general multi-vitamin or having a special one for each need, or age group.
Christie told Journalism.co.uk publishers should not start with a focus on platforms when developing new products and content, but instead "think about your customer first, and to do that you have to know who your customers are".
"At the FT we have a very good understanding of our core audience, the people who are today's subscribers, but we, and I imagine many news organisations, have to understand who we're going to try to bring in the door to grow that business in the next 10 years, 15 years.
"The attitudes and behaviours of that next generation are very different from our current [audience], because they grew up in a world where there is so much media that they don't go out and seek it."It's really important that we try to build that single ecosystem: single sign-in, single ways of identifying your customer.Mary Beth Christie, Financial Times
According to Christie, young people prefer to find their own content over FT's curation, and prefer social recommendations from those of analysts. She said the younger audience had a very different behaviour from older newspaper readers.
But the number of people who consume FT content across multiple devices has been growing, she said, and they are asking for "ubiquity".
To address this, Christie told Journalism.co.uk publishers must try to create a "single ecosystem with many parts, rather than lots of different ones that you're going to have to stitch together later".
"It's really important that we try to build that single ecosystem," she said. "[With] single sign-in, single ways of identifying your customer."
She said one part of this was having access to analytics that can monitor all the different devices the audience might use to access a publisher's content.
"We do have the same analytics platform so we can see people moving between things," Christie said, "whereas if you don't have that then you really are not understanding how people are using you across different devices and across platforms."
She said the FT was not building towards mobile, but building a "universal publishing platform" working for mobile and desktop, "as well as anything else we might come up with".
Christie said the FT has "fundamentals" – such as APIs, metadata, and the 'single sign-on' – that enabled the media outlet to build new products.
So the first thing publishers working across multiple platforms should do, she said, is to know what their values and principles are as a company and editorial business.
A possible next step would be to set up partnerships with others that "align with your strategy, and also that will open you up to the kinds of customers you want," she said.
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