This question is directed to smaller publishers: Do each of your publications have a person in charge of new product development? Are there titles on the payroll, "Product manager" or "Product development manager"? Ten years ago, there was no such thing in B2B publishing. The "product" was a print magazine, and it's stayed pretty much the same for well over a hundred years.
By now, most if not all publishers have an executive in charge of digital media. But I'm going out on a limb and arguing that that's not really the same thing as a product development person at the brand level.
There needs to be someone who really understands the brand, and who is given a budget and a mandate to develop new online products.
This may seem obvious, but after attending the recent ABM Digital Velocity conference in New York City and hearing other publishers present, I'm not so sure we're all on the same page.
There are widely divergent opinions on how to manage new product development, even within the same company. For example, take a Web site redesign. Once you're done, are you done? Some publishers think so. "We spent the budget and got the Web site. We're done." Really? For how long?
Also, I still see evidence of some publishers whose Web site strategies consist of "All the crap we ran in print, archived online." Yes, a great strategy 10 years ago, when many publications couldn't even get their archives online. Enough to build a sustainable Web site today? Few would take that bet.
My argument is that each site needs an ongoing budget and a person whose job it is to constantly come up with the next thing -- at the brand level. Note I didn't say the next big thing. That's certainly needed from time to time, but don't forget, lots of ongoing smaller improvements and course corrections add up. Especially when the competition may not be doing the same.
Does that product development manager position need to be a full-time job? No. It can be an existing editor, salesperson, even digital media executive who is officially tasked with this. I've even seen audience development folks at some of the IT media companies tasked with this.
But it needs to be made very clear that new product development -- and the budget to go with it -- is part of this person's job. One idea I picked up at Digital Velocity was to financially incentivize the person tasked with product development if revenues (or traffic) from the idea takes off.
Should publishers be new product development people? No. They have a magazine, Web site and conference to run. This is a task that needs to be given focus and budget. (Did I mention budget?)
But why can't editors earn extra pay this way? I'm biased of course (former editor) but I think editors are uniquely qualified as new product development folks, because they're presumably the most expert in the market and brand. Why not pay the editor $5K if a traffic threshhold is reached as a result of traffic from the new idea? Or if revenues or profits from a new idea exceed a certain target?
I think in-house digital media folks who are responsible for multiple brands can and should provide the support to the new product people, but the new product people need to exist--along with a budget and a mandate--at the brand level to be remotely effective.