Five Rules for the Digital Transition

By Mike Azzara  |  Posted 2009-05-05 Print this article Print

Many of the member companies of the American Business Media association, meeting this week in Amelia Island, Fla., are living through the transition from print to digital media. Jason Young, CEO of Ziff Davis Media, lived through that transition already and imparted five, high-level rules to the group during a keynote presentation this morning. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Mike Azzara summarizes the insights Young shared.

Many of the member companies of the American Business Media association are living through the transition from print to digital media. During his keynote presentation at the association's meeting this week in Amelia Island, Fla., Jason Young, CEO of Ziff Davis Media, imparted five high-level rules to the group for surviving such a transition. Young started his keynote presentation by showing his pre-transition, youthful photo from 2001 and then showed his current headshot-to widespread laughter and spontaneous applause. Then he jumped directly into his "operating rules."

Rule No. 1: Set a realistic timeline on demand expectations

"We constantly underestimated the speed with which print would decline," Young said. "We also underestimated the growth potential of the digital business."

He then offered the assembled B2B media CEOs a formula for calculating print decline:

"Whatever projection you have for print, in terms of its rate of decline, increase that by 50 percent, take a deep breath ... and then double it."

Rule No. 2: Manage the print business for cash and the digital business for growth

"You have to align your resource allocation to where the opportunity lives," Young said. "You have an obligation to provide a quality product in print, but you have to use every penny of available capital to feed into your digital business to make it grow faster."

He explained that, as the difference between what media readers consume and where marketers spend their budgets shrinks, billions of dollars will shift to digital revenue. That's the opportunity-period.

Rule No. 3: Ensure you have the right digital leaders and that they are empowered to succeed

Young said the digital business is different, and requires different skills than the print business across all departments-content, audience marketing, sales. Further, "early stage digital businesses must be separated as independent businesses, empowered to do what's right for that business itself."

Later in the transition process, they must be reintegrated-and the digital leaders must gain control of the newly combined brand platform.

"That's not easy-you'll have to displace the brand experts of several decades. But if you want to ensure the survival of the brand for the long term, you have to put in charge the people who are experts on where the future of your brand platform is headed."

Ziff Davis separated its digital business in 2001, and reintegrated in 2006, he said.

Mike Azzara is a longtime B2B media executive covering the high-technology industry, now Chief Content Strategist for Kilter, the branded content marketing arm of Stein Rogan + Partners. Mike also advises media software startup mSpoke, and tries his best to consult with media companies beginning to deal with Internet effects he's already lived through—but they insist on making the same mistakes on their own. He can be reached at

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