Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Technology, Change & Customers

(or) Back to the Future

Here's the text of my presentation at today's O'Reilly Tools of Change conference in Frankfurt...

Last week Publishing Perspectives billed me as “the odd woman out” at this conference – in that my concerns – and what I will be focussing on today – are some of the less tangible aspects of the impacts of technologies. There’s a tendency for us to focus on the “tools” and think much less about the “change” and even less about how our existing customers and our existing employees are going to experience that change – and for the next 45 minutes at least, I’d like to reverse that trend.

For clarity – and to dispel the sense that I might be a Luddite imposter here – I’m a daily user of new technologies; the happy owner of blackberry, iPhone and iPad. And I can’t imagine a working life without technological tools developed over the past two decades. For a humanities graduate I spend an astonishingly large portion of my life analysing data mined out of the Oracle database that is the fundamental infrastructure for the business I currently work in.

Time and clarity are of the essence this morning – so here’s an overview of what I’m going to be looking at.

Why I’m here
Tools of Change (what do we mean?)
Thoughts about Change (and how it’s funded) mixed with a Bit of Industry History

In this presentation you’ll encounter some key words. Be alert to them.

Towards the end I’ll be taking some of the more general points I have been making and illustrating how they inform relationships with customers, using some of these businesses as examples.

(or) Things you really need to think about to make good decisions

Just a final introductory point – a lot of what I say today is informed by my experience at NBNi & Rowman & Littlefield – but for clarity the opinions I am expressing are my own and not necessarily those of the business.

Why I’m Here (in the present rather than the existential sense)
So if I’m not a technologist – why am I up here in front of you at a meeting that has become associated with cutting-edge technologies (or at least what passes in publishing as cutting-edge, even if it isn’t always news out in the wider world)?
Well, there two are primary reasons…

Firstly, for the past six years I have worked in distribution. My current working life is engaged with service provision – to publishers and to their customers – for supply of print books (and some ebooks and software products). Remember – although it may not be the case down the line from now – today, cash in return for print books is still the primary revenue source for the vast majority of publishers.

Most people in publishing – and quite a few in bookselling – have traditionally seen the supply chain as the ultimate in boredom – and certainly not the place for bright young media types in search of a glittering career. Yet today it is the place to get a grandstand view of change as it is embodied in our customer interactions, revenue streams, business models and profit margins.

And secondly, I have spent my whole professional life engaging with change. It is very tempting for us to think that change is new - but it isn’t. I’ve been in this industry for more than 23 years in five different roles, and every one of them has been in a business coming to terms with the need to change. It there is anything I know a little about – it is change and how it affects businesses.

Twenty-two years ago, I was a partner in the family business, Chapman Bounford & Associates (later bounford.com). In the months before I became involved, the Chapman from that partnership – the wonderful airbrush illustrator, Bob Chapman, died very suddenly. In the following months my (then) husband, Trevor Bounford, was struggling to rebuild a business based around his own somewhat different cartographic, information design and editorial project management skills. Trevor had the foresight to spend a substantial portion of the business’s life insurance payout for Bob on Apple Macs and software (at eye-watering expense compared to present costs). It was an inspired move, because it catapulted us to the forefront of technological change in the illustrated reference field in London. Within a few months we became the first graphic design studio in London to draw maps on the Mac and have them output to 4-colour separated film. (But remember, this step-change was funded by an unexpected cash injection to the business, and I am going to return to cash to fund change later. Though I won’t be advocating a premature demise for one of your business partners as a method for raising that cash.)

Around the same time we became the last studio to draw the London Underground map by hand. Trevor is the man responsible for putting the bend in the Central Line in a major, time-consuming and somewhat traumatic re-design of the map. Yet a mere year after that redesign, the tube map had been digitised and from then on could be continuously modified and updated. (Which is a poetic irony given that Beck’s inspiration for the original was a circuit board diagram).

Then, in the late 1990s, I became Executive Director of the Independent Publishers Guild. I had the luck to be at the organisational heart of that trade body during a time of enormous change. During my tenure, the UK book industry was first learning how to take advantage of Print-on-Demand technologies to keep backlist in print, and to control cash – and at the same time many of us first started worrying about eBooks.
Most significantly for our purposes today - the organisation of the IPG itself was literally transformed by our specifying and implementing a new database that could act as the administrative, commercial and communications engine for the organisation. With one fundamental technological shift, the executive was liberated from the need to keep multiple address lists for different purposes (finance, events billing, membership subscriptions, publications, mailing labels and so on). And in doing so, we finally had time to engage with the very real issues facing the industry – rather than merely administrating a handful of annual get-togethers. Whenever I am anxious about forthcoming technological change, I think back to the enormous benefits we reaped grasping and deploying a new technology at the IPG.

With this perspective, I think that although an instinctive response to the prospect of rapid migration to digital delivery channels can be alarm, we should not forget that publishing and bookselling have always had a symbiotic relationship with technology. (I live in a village called “Caxton” – which is the English equivalent of living in a German village called “Gutenberg” – so I am reminded of this on a daily basis).

But there is a difference between the technological innovation that was movable type for the printing press and today’s innovations. When publishing as a potentially viable business venture first exploded in the West as a result of Gutenberg, Caxton et al, it was absolutely clear how the printer/publisher was going to monetize their investment and activities to receive a satisfactory ROI. Usually the printer and the publisher were one and the same person. With that new technology one copy was turned to multiple copies, quickly, and at a price the market was prepared to bear, as they were a fraction of the price of copies produced in scriptoria. There was a time-rich market hungry for printed entertainment and information product and with no alternative options for accessing content, and few distractions from that content. Which was a price-to-market revolution that was mirrored in a small way centuries later with the arrival of mass-market paperbacks).

In our diverse electronic world with so much competition for attention, our future revenue streams are much less obvious and far more fragmented. And given that I.T. investment is so incredibly expensive, I don’t really buy the argument that eBooks are cheaper to produce than pBooks. If you are thinking just in terms of unit production costs – yes – possibly. But the I.T. and time investment required to morph a print publishing business to an e-publishing business is certain to be a major expense in terms of the initial financial and human-resource investment (and change in human resource deployment is always accompanied by incalculable quantities of management pain and therefore management time).

We may be able to outsource file conversion to the developing world – but the beating hearts of our publishing businesses are in the minds and creativity of our editors and authors. Unless we secure substantial ongoing revenue streams from what that heart pumps out - it will suffer a terminal cardiac arrest.

The costs of changing our technologies and retraining people or hiring in new skills are huge – and often not factored into our notions of cost. For decades – if not right back to Gutenberg – the publishing industry has been hopelessly wedded to the notion of multiples of unit cost as the primary method of determining future profit. (You only have to come into our warehouse and look at the pallets on the very top racks of our hi-bay to grasp the pitfalls of that approach.)

Earlier this morning Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly shared some information about the volume of ebooks being sold from their web site. It’s useful for us to note that the sales Andrew talked about take place in the context of consumers accessing the O’Reilly brand direct from the corporate web site(and not purchasing via resellers). It is time for us to think less about unit margin and much more about our overall brand value.

Given that both development costs and any future revenue streams remain uncertain, the financial and human investment required for us to change in response to new content delivery channels is quite some commitment to make. We’re back to the old cliché that “if I want to go there, I wouldn’t necessarily start from here”.

Back in the days of Gutenberg & Caxton printers & publishers were the technological innovators. In the twenty-first century the technological innovators are not publishers. They are venture-capital backed organisations working on totally different risk/reward cycle to the traditional publishing industry – be they the giants like Amazon, or student start-ups that go on to change the ways in which people communicate across the globe.

Currently I work in a book industry supply chain business owned by The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group - an international academic publisher. We are constantly adapting and developing our systems in order to keep pace with change in the way books are being published by publishers and bought and “experienced” by customers. By far our most demanding customers are the Internet resellers who have much more exacting data requirements than bricks and mortar booksellers – and next to them in term of service expectations come individuals purchasing books direct. I realised after joining NBNi that I was over 18 years into a career in publishing at a senior level before I did a job that brought me into any sort of proximity with the “customer”. Over the same time-frame I am prepared to bet that there are many in publishing of a similar age, enjoying successful careers - who have had even less contact with or concept of their customer.

Tools of Change

So – bearing in mind that my career history demonstrates that neither technology nor change are exactly new to our industry – I’d like to take a brief look at the title of this meeting – which in itself has become a powerful brand – “Tools of Change”.

Starting with “change”, which the OED defines firstly as “the act or fact of changing” – which I like because it carries with it the notion that change is often an ongoing or continuous process. It’s unfortunate that many of us think of the second definition – which is “exchange” – as in changing merchandise or currency or to change one’s clothes. A quick transaction or transition from one state to another – which when complete requires no more thought.

I was discussing the problem of the word “change” with a prolific author of ethics and theology texts – asking if he could think of a word for change that was freighted with an implication of a continuous activity. He couldn’t. However he could point me to a Latin tag that’s particularly appropriate given that we are here in Germany.

Anyone who happens to be familiar with Calvinist doctrine will know this tag:
“Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est” - which translates as: “The reformed Church must go on being reformed”. The point being that change doesn’t just happen once. To be worth anything it must be continuous.

The other thing to say about change – particularly when it comes to changing an existing business is that it is a human process that requires both vision and leadership. I’ve had first hand experience this year of how difficult change can be to effect and how scared individuals can be that it is going to annihilate their jobs. And of course the more scared and negative they are – the more likely that outcome becomes.

Change need leaders, generals and troops – and even then, victory is not assured.

As for “tool” – the OED provides “any instrument of manual operation; a mechanical implement”. (It is arguable that a traditional print book is a tool – in that it is a mechanism for conveying printed words.)

Slightly more usefully the OED’s second definition is “to work or shape with a tool” – this definition comes closer to a more continuous process, which again is a more useful notion for our purposes.

So, why am I knocking holes into the title of our conference and risking offence to our hosts from O’Reilly and the Frankfurt Book Fair? Because I think that we have to adjust our focus a little and stop thinking that we will find magical techniques and technologies that are going to facilitate change and then we can all settle back down into nicely profitable business routines. We tend to think of change as pivoting around moments of crisis – not an ongoing process.

The last time I spoke to this issue was in June at the American Association of University Presses conference at Salt Lake City where my great friend and client Richard Brown - Director of Georgetown University Press said “This is not a crisis but a transition, a perpetual transition that will become, in time, as natural as the air we breathe.” Richard could just as easily have quoted the Calvinist tag “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est!” (Except as the Georgetown University was established by Jesuits – it would be an unlikely choice of phrase.)

Thoughts about Funding Change Mixed with A Dash of Industry History
At the same meeting in Salt Lake City, Joseph Esposito, CEO of giantchair.com proposed a five-stage model of the development of university press publishing – with University Presses currently in stage 3. I’d urge anyone thinking about the commercial structure of publishing to go to the AAUP website and download and read his presentation. I don’t fully agree with all of it – and I am not at all sure he is right about the texture and structure of stages 4 & 5. However – like all of the most useful presentations, Esposito’s session crystallised for me in a moment something that I had gradually been realising over a long time – but had not ever articulated to myself. And that is that the publishing industry is preparing for its future while being funded by its past, unlike new media and technology companies – which are preparing for the future at the same time as being funded by that future – in the form of Venture Capital and other start-up funding mechanisms.

(As an aside – you may be asking yourselves when I am quoting events at the AAUP meeting – when the Unversity Press sector is often considered to be one of the less commercial sectors – supported as it often is by contributions to operating cost from the parent university. And the answer is that because of budget cuts many of these presses are now having to sink or swim on their own – at the same time as facing huge pressure from librarians in particular to provide content electronically on a pay-per-use basis. These presses are being squeezed at both ends, and they have to reshape themselves fast).

Tech and social media companies spend vast portions of their funds on R&D. For centuries the only R&D costs that the publishing industry has had to bear are author advances and in the case of illustrated publishing – artwork. I’d suggest that one of the reasons why the Wylie agency decision on eBook rights caused such a furore (albeit something of a furore in a teacup earlier in the year) is that it went straight to the heart of an issue we aren’t talking about. Are royalties sustainable for publishers needing to invest in new content delivery methods?

Esposito’s thesis that the industry is currently in stage 3 of a 5-stage progression captures the essence of the Gordian knot that most publishers are currently faced with. Our current revenue streams come from old technologies and old financial models and systems – yet we need to fund new technologies and new financial models – for which we currently have few defined supply chain systems (and I’m using supply chain in the broad sense of getting a product or service to the consumer here). Plus there’s the complication that we have little evidence that these delivery methods can be financially self-supporting in terms of profit, cash management or subsidiary revenue streams.

In our headlong rush to be able to supply eBooks, many publishers have failed to think about how fundamentally different the new world is. Replicating print books as eBooks and disseminating them through intermediaries as lots of us are currently doing is an important first step. Indeed the company I work for is engaged in facilitating this process for publishers – because the publishers we work with are asking us for this service.

However on a purely personal level I have some concerns about the audit-“ability” of eBooks supplied to the customer by resellers. The business model in play here is fundamentally the same as that of the Amazon Advantage programme – where stock is supplied on consignment and paid for in retrospect. The eBook reselling model works in very much the same way, with the HUGE exception that the electronic file is obtained from the eBook aggregator once and once only. We are placing huge levels of trust in both the moral compass and – more importantly – the robustness of the distribution, recording and reporting technologies used by eBook resellers. I work in the supply chain and I have to report back to my clients daily about their sales. And I know from experience that reporting systems don’t always do what you think you have instructed your I.T. people tell them to do. In the word of print books we have the checks and balances of physical stock movements to audit our reporting. I am unsure what the checks and balances in the eBook reselling world are.

I think that it is for this reason that in a Twitter exchange (under the #followreader hash tag) earlier this year, Tim Spadling, founder of LibraryThing, described publishers’ current approaches to eBooks as publishers selling their inheritance for a mess of potage.

But in case you think I am being hopelessly negative about eBooks I am not at all. I buy them and occasionally read them (in roughly the same sort of proportion as the percentage of print books I buy and then actually manage the time to read). My biggest reservation about the notion of eBook reselling as it is currently constructed in our industry is that it misses the whole point that eBooks are NOT print books and present a completely different range of opportunities to the publisher – most significantly for interaction and engagement with the customer. A possibility that is entirely lost under the eBook reselling model. (And this is why I think eBook reselling is just a first – and temporary – step for many publishers.) And in the last few minutes I’ll be looking at some examples of how publishers are exploiting these possibilities.

But back to my point. Ongoing change presents us with real problems. Doing what is sensible for our business in the “here and now” is not necessarily what prepares it best for the “tomorrow and beyond”. Indeed doing what seems logically right today can be exactly the opposite of what is good for the long-term.

A great example of this conundrum lies in the way in which the Publisher-Customer dynamic altered during the twentieth century (and which is also key to the problems we are facing today and why people like you and me come to meetings like this in search of answers.) The C20 began with most publishing enterprises as independent entities, frequently with offices over their own shops – shops that may or may not have contained their own printing press in the back room. Publishers were commissioners, editors, producers, and retailers. Customers obtained books by visiting the shop or by ordering through the mail, which was the only option for the transfer of goods and correspondence in the marketplace. The closest example I can think of today is the Persephone Bookshop on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London. They don’t print there, but Nicola and her team do everything else from commission to wrap and pack. And I think we’re all agreed that it’s not a model that could become universal in a digital age. In fact the reason that it works today is because it is so individual.

As the twentieth century progressed, our industry (along with many others) began to consolidate. Smaller presses were bought by larger presses – grandparents of the major international conglomerates we are now familiar with, and instead of multiple offices over shops, we began to see the establishment of warehouses – and the beginning of a distancing between customer and publisher – as independent bookselling took off. (Bookshops had previously existed in the university cities – but gradually they were established in most sizeable market towns). These bookshops were supplied by the publishers’ central warehouse, while smaller publishers continued to supply direct.

Gradually the larger publishers – sensing an opportunity to defray their costs – began distributing for smaller publishers. Direct contact with the customer was all but lost by the vast majority (by volume) of publishers for any purpose other than “selling” and discount negotiations. The service of providing the book – and making the experience of obtaining the book as pleasant an experience as possible was entirely outsourced and largely forgotten about. In many larger companies the distance between a commissioning editor and the warehouse, supply chain and customer became so great that you needed the metaphorical equivalent of several visas and a passport to traverse it.

As the pace of consolidation and outsourcing accelerated in the last decades of the century we ended up with a situation where the last thing many publishers wanted was contact with end users, the only time they ever thought about the supply chain was when something was going wrong. Even worse, more often than not the publisher thought of their “customer” as another book trade intermediary – a wholesaler, library supplier, chain bookstore or independent bookstore.

Academic publishers were amongst the closest connected to their customers in that their stable of authors taught their cohort of customers. They were proactive in direct mail campaigns and in seeking adoptions from academics, but for the general trade, contact with the end user was almost non-existent. Not only did publishers avoid contact with customers – but if at all possible they avoided booksellers too. I remember being speechless when suggesting to a member of the IPG Board in 2001 that we hold a joint meeting for members of the IPG and the Booksellers Association and being told: “Oh I really don’t think we have enough in common to run a meeting together”. Fortunately things have moved on rapidly since and the same thing would not happen now – but it is indicative of how very far removed some publishers became from their customers.

At the same time, the publishing industry was (and remains) notoriously poor at utilising professional market research, with tiny budgets – if any – apportioned to direct consumer research. Editors, agents and to some extent literary reviewers, acted as arbiters and gatekeepers to the public taste. One of the few sectors of the publishing industry to have made intensive and sustained use of the sorts of market research processes being commonly employed by most other design and manufacturing industries was the part-works publishing sector (a sector that many in the mainstream looked down their noses on as “not proper publishing”).

(For an indication of the lack of importance attached to consumer research by the UK Book Industry, we need look no further than the UK’s only book-specialist consumer research company, Book Marketing Ltd. When this company was put up for sale not long ago, it was purchased by an American company, Bowker – not a British or European company.)

It’s a profound irony that whilst the financial drive to outsourcing was increasing the distance between publisher and customer developments elsewhere in the technology sector and the retail sector have taken us full circle to where the closest possible relationship with the customer is possible – and indeed desirable. Today technology is driving us towards flexible publishing tools that permit, enable, facilitate and (god forbid) even encourage interactions between author and consumer, publisher and consumer, consumer and consumer. At a time when the mainstream publishers found themselves more distanced from their customer than ever before – technology has plunged them into a situation where they need to learn to understand and interact with their customer – or suffer the consequences of competitors leaping into the vacuum. And by competitors I don’t necessarily mean other publishers. I mean competitors for attention.

So – it’s useful to remember that what’s financially good for a business today is not necessarily what prepares it for a sustainable future and just as the pressure to outsource warehousing lead to – what is now - an unhelpful distancing between publisher and customer, in the same way the current rush to providing ebooks via reselling models that ape print book reselling models may not be the best long-term strategic solution.

As I have already mentioned – many publishing types think of distribution and the supply chain as the most tedious part of our industry – not worthy of the attention of creative people. If the ISBN was the Cinderella of our industry – until she became a princess in these days of metadata, metadata and more metadata – then the warehouse was the hearth she slept in at night. However I consider myself lucky to have spent the past six years working in this sector. Being part of a distribution company has also led to me become increasingly concerned with the customer experience of book buying. And thinking about precisely that - “the experience of book buying”- can be very illuminating.

This phrase is so important I am going to repeat it again – I am concerned with – and spend time thinking about – “the experience of book buying”.

Over the past three months our business has expanded into new premises – and the process of moving 3.4 million units of stock at the same time as keeping 39,500 individual product lines available for instant supply has been enormously difficult. Indeed, we haven’t always managed it. If I needed any evidence at all of how important focussing on the customer experience is – I have had it in spades this summer. I can confirm that modern consumers have very low tolerance levels to inconvenience and delay.

The paradigm shift that has lowered customer tolerance to inconvenience (or to put it another way – raised their expectation of information, speed and faultless service), is of course Amazon. Closely followed by many other Internet resellers.

One of the reasons Amazon has transformed the landscape of bookselling is because it has transformed the customer experience. Because they are purchasing online, the customer acts as their own personal order-entry clerk – embedding their own requirements directly into Amazon’s systems. This – combined with Amazon’s ability to invest large sums of money in I.T. – facilitates total transparency about where in the process of supply the customer’s order is – without the nasty gap that traditional distributors experience in between receipt of an order (even by EDI – where the EDI message still has to be tested and accepted by the system) and the order being placed in the system.

Amazon has introduced a new customer-transparency paradigm that traditional publishers’ and distributors’ systems were not designed around. They were built around reselling-via-intermediary business models. The snowballing of Internet retailing in all sectors has transformed customer expectations – whether that customer be an individual or another business. Amazon and other Internet retailers have catapulted all of us into a world where we (and we are all customers) expect not only speed, but also information and visibility. Ever since Amazon was established, the traditional book distribution sector has been playing catch-up. And more critically, playing catch up at the same time as revenues are being squeezed by publishers looking for the lowest possible fulfilment costs (and at the same time as publishers in turn are squeezed for more discount by retailers – further diminishing the distributor’s margin and ability to invest in quality I.T. and quality customer services people.

Any distributor will tell you it is nigh on impossible to run a business that needs to make major I.T. spends at the same time as being squeezed for margin at every front. I like to think that our company is an exception. We have been making large capital investments this year – but it is very difficult to do in a sector that is considered to be on the way out. And for the record I don’t believe that Distribution is on the way out. I believe it has to undergo a process of change in order to provide the services publishers need to engage in a world of much more diverse revenue streams. Distributors have to invest in warehouses and systems – and the best possible customer service staff – so that we can do what we have always done much better than ever before for two reasons
(i) because we are competing with instant access, and
(ii) because Esposito’s 5-stage model suggests that publishers can’t get to stages four and five without maximising revenues from stages 1, 2 and 3 and that can only be done with the best possible customer service – or customers will simply migrate to other media.

To put it another way, it is only through having the best possible physical supply chains and providing a customer experience that is informed about all of your products and services (and that has therefore been the subject of major investments) that publishers will maintain their print book revenues for long enough for them to work out how to magnetize their content in new ways.

The expectations of what we as publishers & distributors of consumer goods ought to deliver are now being determined by companies like Amazon which – sustained losses year on year – are so well capitalised that they can afford the continuous software development that is now a pre-requisite of being an effective part of the supply chain. The tension between the need to reduce costs now – and the need to invest – has exacerbated publishing’s crash course for disaster, without publishers even being aware of it – so far removed are they from the reality of the customer’s experience of obtaining their products.

Finally, I’d like to turn to some examples of publishers who are creatively exploiting the opportunities now available to them. And example No1 is dead easy. We’re in the room with it. O’Reilly (recently re-branded O’Reilly Media) is a brilliant example of how a publisher can use its content strengths to become a pivotal member of a community of interest.

O’Reilly started out publishing print books. Today they publish eBooks – which in turn enhance demand for print book. They hold webinars, events like Tools of Change and many other specialist tech meetings. I was talking with Sharon Cordesse from O’Reilly over dinner last night and discovered that only a little over 50% of O’Reilly’s revenues now arise from e- and p-books. The remainder comes from the complex web business activities built up around their specialist brand.

I also asked Sharon about their customer interface – whether each business unit has its own billing and customer service interface. The answer is “no” O’Reilly has one centralised customer services department that can take care of any transaction (or trouble-shoot any problem). From the same customer services unit I can organise booking a place at ToC or purchase of e-books. O’Reilly therefore is providing a joined-up customer service experience – not one that exposes the customer to the frustration of dealing with separate silos within the O’Reilly businesses.

I’m also fortunate to work with a company called PasTest – a medical publisher that publishes test prep materials for qualified doctors who are taking their professional exams (FRCP, FRCS, etc.). PasTest are really closely tuned in to their customer’s requirements – particularly speed of turnover. They know that their customers are busy, work very long hours, are dedicating year of their lives to taking exams that have a very high first time failure rate. PasTest know that their customers don’t have time to waste and don’t have time to wait for books once they have been ordered.

As well as supplying books, PasTest provide online webinars and self-test materials. They also organise courses where doctors can practise making diagnoses on real patients with real ailments. PasTest’s multi-textured relationship – and multiple points of contact with their audience offers them many more ways to know and get to understand their customers’ requirements than many other publishers will ever have.

Publishers can also learn from what some non-publishers are doing. We have a member of staff currently going through the Edinburgh Business School MBA. The organisation provides a complete course pack (no need to buy books), online learning resources, online tutorial support, weekend crammer courses – and of course the final exam. The customer service experience for the executive student is brilliant.

Something that all of these publishers are organisations are doing is building a brand. Which is a novel concept to most publishers – who for years have been hostage to the brands of their author. The demands of the modern publisher mean that publishers have more opportunities than ever to build their own brand(s) and in doing so get much closer to their customers.

So – I promised you some conclusions – which would not be answers but questions. And here they are.

Do you provide a coherent, informed and joined-up customer service experience across your entire range of publications, products and services?

What is the infrastructure that supports your customer’s engagement with your products and services – and does it provide them with the best possible customer experience?