PressReader and the Evolution of Online Quality Reading
Q & A with Carlos Martínez, Senior Manager, Partnerships with PressReader
By Verónica de Santiago
PressReader came into being in 2013, as an evolution to a website and mobile application of an international magazine distribution initiative that dates back to 1999. They were pioneers in the field, offering in 2003 a flat-rate subscription service for digital newspaper reading; and since then, they have been adding more and more mastheads, as well as magazines, to their catalogue of publications that, as we speak, it is the largest digital kiosk on the market.
PressReader has been present in the digital communication revolution since its onset. Before that, users sought out and consumed exclusively free products; today, they prioritize the quality of their reading experience. How does this position PressReader?
There’s no doubt that we are years ahead of our competitors; this allows us to always focus on the reader. We have an immense offer, so we work hard to provide personalized content for each reader. Our navigation menu allows us to break down publications by language, country, and content categories, so that we always display content relevant to each user in the "For You" section.
Since the beginning we have believed in the maxim that the user decides where to read, and more so now with the penetration of mobile devices! In addition to the investment that PressReader has always made in usability, first working with HTML5 for the web and now working with the best interface developers for our mobile application, we are since last year incorporating analytical technology into our code. Our goal is to continue improving and increasing the personalization of our contents day by day.
Beyond technology, we also have an extensive team that is responsible for ensuring the quality and credibility of the information sources that are part of our system, supporting from our organization the fight against the rise of false news.
Digitalization, and especially the introduction of mobile devices in recent years, has completely transformed the consumption of news. From PressReader's perspective, working side by side with the publishing industry, what problems has digitalization brought to the sector? What solutions?
The main problem has undoubtedly been the fall in revenue. In the early days of digitalisation, digital users became accustomed to accessing content for free, because their percentage of total readers was not relevant... But with the massive migration to websites and apps, it became clear that digital media did not have any system of monetisation (both in terms of subscriptions and advertising). Today, the industry has adapted, of course, by integrating paid walls in their websites, generating digital subscription systems, and innovating in advertising formats.
The main advantages for me are the immediate access to breaking news and the countless functionalities and interactivities that digital content allows. From PressReader we have taken care, for example, that being blind or not being able to read a language are not an impediment to access our contents. We offer instant translation to more than 18 languages, and an automatic reading option.
PressReader offers access to over 7,000 newspapers and magazines from over 120 countries in more than 60 languages. How many users are there in all these media?
Yes, I can say that the platform has had an exponential organic growth in the last five years, it is frankly impossible to give a figure! This is because at PressReader we offer many variants of access to our content: free access, purchase of specific issues or editions, personal subscription to all content... In addition, it is important to note that accesses from the thousands of companies that offer complimentary access to PressReader for their clients make up our largest volume of downloads. Hotels, cruises, airlines, hospitals, universities, or libraries offer us as an added value to their guests, users, and collaborators.
Many of the brands we work with are part of the travel industry, so PressReader is a very interesting added value. We provide a catalogue of publications from anywhere in the world, in any language, and covering practically any demographics; so no matter where our partners' clients come from or where they go, they will find entertainment and information to meet their needs.
Your commitment to innovation and development has been very clear from the start, and its importance in building user and publication loyalty is undeniable. What aspects of R&D do you invest the most in?
In recent years, investment has been very focused on facilitating the consumption of content on mobile devices with small screens; and in 2019 we made a turnaround in content personalization with the purchase of News360. Machine Learning is going to play an important role in the short and medium term future of PressReader, as well as accessibility. We are very close to launching a 100% accessible version of our website, focused on visually impaired users.
I would say, based on these latest updates to our products, that the user and reading experience is undoubtedly in the lead, followed very closely by accessibility and data analysis.
In January 2020, within the framework of Fitur, the Excelencias Group awarded you the Excelencias Turisticas Award with a Green Mention, "sustainability", for your collaboration with Iberia to offer digital magazines on board all its flights. What did this award mean to you?
A joy! It confirmed that perseverance leads to success. We had been positioning our service as a way of helping companies come closer to their sustainability commitments and goals for some time, and last year we began working with six new airlines. This Excellence Award was confirmation that the seed sown has taken root in the industry, and an invitation for many other companies to consider us for their sustainability initiatives.
With its business model, PressReader contributes to the sustainability of the planet. To what extent is the digital kiosk the publishing model of the future?
Iberia has cut down on paper consumption by 640 tons a year with the implementation of the digital reading service, which translates into a reduction of more than 615 tons of CO2 emissions. This may seem small, but adding up all our partners the sustainability reach of PressReader is important.
This means that the distribution of content in the digital ecosystem will continue to replace paper distribution, generally; but it does not imply that paper should disappear. Some regions of the world are not ready for a total transition, and for the time being there should be a hybrid model where paper coexists with digital distribution. Here, as always, the important thing is to understand our audience: each medium must be where its reader goes to find it, adapting its products to the preferences of its consumers.
How have PressReader's 2020 goals changed after the COVID crisis?
We stand firm on our ground! We are still very focused on R&D, and on incorporating a book catalogue into our platform. Obviously, we have had to readjust our revenue forecast and sales targets; and we are working proactively with our long list of travel industry partners to re-emerge alongside them all. We want to continue to offer your clients access to PressReader during these times of reclusion at home.
On a positive note, requests for Branded Editions product development, app and web platforms customized for each medium have skyrocketed since the lockdown. The Excelencias Group was one of the first to invest in this product years ago.
PressReader is part of the World Travel & Tourism Council's COVID team. What actions are you taking with them in the fields of communication and information?
Right now, the team's main task is to move forward in discussions with various governments, asking for support from the industry. At PressReader, as befits our involvement with communication, we are primarily dedicated to sharing valuable information and running campaigns to help companies sustain themselves during this time. We are producing, on a daily basis, a compilation of news about COVID-19; and we are helping to spread the word about the WTTC's #TogetherInTravel campaign.
In your LinkedIn profile you explain that your duties include identifying areas for service improvements and opening new markets for PressReader. Any ideas or comments on what the editorial and communications world will look like after the COVID?
I honestly don't think there will be any major changes in the publishing world. It is true that, unfortunately, some media will disappear due to financial pressure; or maybe they will have to merge to get ahead... But the main name scenario should not change. Digital news consumption, as well as visual content, is at an all-time high; and those who are able to monetize these subscribers (either with advertising or with recruitment plans) will come out of this crisis even stronger.
Are we going to find an even more digital ecosystem? Most probably yes, since (at least in the first months) a part of the population will not feel comfortable reading paper because of the risk of transmission of the virus. A clear example of this is that last week an airline in the United Arab Emirates informed me that they were not planning to distribute any paper for at least six months.
We are prepared to help the media continue to reach these readers, either through the PressReader platform or our Branded Editions service. Access to information and entertainment is now more crucial than ever, and our channels are ready to help with this communication effort.