BoSacks Interview with Malcolm Netburn, CEO of CDS Global
In framing today's dialog and before I ask the more difficult questions, I would like to build a framework for my readers, not all of whom are fulfillment experts. Can you describe what services CDS Global provides in the current volatile media business? I guess simply put I am asking, can you describe for the laymen of our industry the character of a successful fulfillment provider in today's publishing landscape and where it sits in the ever changing content value chain?
In this age of disruptive media, CDS Global is an enabler of all the ways in which content can now be distributed in a world of agnostic distribution. We are the essential link between the industry and the consumer, deepening the customer experience. That's why we no longer think of ourselves or brand ourselves as a "fulfillment company." It's also why technology sits at the core of our investments and initiatives.
This work now involves partnering in brand extensions and focusing on the customer experience, in delivering business intelligence, and in integrating social media into that consumer experience. With the user experience being as essential as the content provided, successful fulfillment companies find themselves more and more at the early-stage decision table rather than in the traditional role of fulfillment as a back-end service.
How confused would you say that the publishing community still is in the still rapidly evolving media landscape?
I think that this is less a question of the confusion and more a question as to how the industry navigates in uncharted and unmapped waters.
All of the time-tested approaches are falling away to the new and disruptive realities of our digital age. That includes advertising revenue, newsstand sales, frequency of information being delivered and even the basic assumption that consumers will continue to subscribe to frequency-based publications. Think Netflix or your cable relationship as the emerging model.
What place do existing distribution channels have in your business plan of the future?
I continue to believe that there is a role for print, even if it's sold in a very different way than the traditional subscription model. But I also believe that print's future value will be more about powering the brand in distribution channels beyond mail delivery and newsstand sales.
How do you see old distribution models for magazines changing? And on what time table?
Old distribution channels are changing rapidly. Consumers want information on demand, accessible by all means and devices, and they want to pay for it in different ways than currently exist. Newsstand will deteriorate even more rapidly than home-delivered subscriptions. And, in both cases, I see inflection points within the next 18 months that will dramatically change these traditional distribution models.
In an increasingly digital market how do you intend to drive on-going revenues?
The exciting thing about the ever-increasing digital market is the opportunity to get more share of mind from the consumer because there are many more touchpoints as content is consumed in different ways. More share of mind will translate into greater share of wallet. As a partner to the information industry, it is CDS Global's job to be proactive in facilitating and powering these new revenue streams.
Media companies are morphing into brand companies, creating product and service extensions - some physical, some digital. Technology-based business outsource companies like CDS Global can earn revenue by delivering services that help companies execute in this very new world.
In your position today, what is your biggest challenge as well as your company's biggest challenge? How are you combating both?
As the CEO of CDS Global, the biggest challenge I face is the difficulty in preparing for the future from a strategic point of view given the demands for achieving short-term objectives. The second and almost equal challenge is that our company has to deliver all of the services required for the traditional and legacy parts of business while at the same time investing and growing into the services required for the digital age.
We have taken what on the surface looks like a risky approach, where we have to deliver both guns and butter - meaning that protecting our clients' traditional businesses is critical to their success, even as we need to invest in people and technology to enable our clients' digital experiments and support their digital direction.
You once said that "The days of fulfillment owning the process end-to-end are over. The role of a successful fulfillment company is to be a part of that [customer data] food chain." Can you elaborate on that? Where is the future of the fulfillment business?
We live in an era of diversification and atomization, where one size doesn't fit all and where one model doesn't serve all the needs of customers. Content lives in a spider-web-like world of detachable, portable pieces of data that can move as quickly as you can hit the send button. Fulfillment services need to be a reflection of that sea change of atomization, and so the role of fulfillment needs to evolve to participate in the real ecosystem that information lives in - not the nostalgic view of both simpler and monolithic times.
The future of the fulfillment business is going to be a lot more around partnering with other suppliers, integrating into the world of social media, integrating data and information across many platforms, and living in a world of increased differentiation. And that is a good thing.
In defining a blueprint for success as our goal today, what are some key attributes for a successful information distributor in the 21st century?
A key attribute in this digitally disrupted age is the ability to collect, manage and integrate wildly varied data and then deliver that data to end users as the key lever to make marketing and business decisions. Data then becomes a decision tool more than an analytical tool.
Information distributors will need to flourish in a world of experimentation, technology nimbleness and acceptance that what is built today will be obsolete soon. Reinvention will be a daily event, not part of a five-year plan of evolutionary change.
Do you sense that there is a digital void in the current database compilation of various web newsstands in data about subscribers or is there an abundance of big data that is useful and generates an even more complete customer profile than before?
I don't believe that there is so much a void in data compilation, but an enormous gap to be filled in how to normalize data to make it truly useful and then to manage it in a way that is practical and actionable. Big data in itself has no value. What has value is being able to deploy that big data quickly and aggressively in this digital age. That gap needs to be filled immediately.
What must the successful business model contain for today and perhaps even more importantly what must it contain for success tomorrow?
The successful business model for fulfillment companies today is to blow up the world of fulfillment and to replace it with language and actions that address the critical issues of our industry. Therefore, the model must be built around emerging and ever-changing technologies, the ability to embrace change, the requirement for creative thinking and creative people where that may not have been as necessary in the past, and maybe most importantly, the full integration of fulfillment into other parts of the media ecosystem.
The fulfillment industry has come a long way in the last few years, but much progress is required to deliver on the promise and service that publishers expect from us. It all starts with embracing our new identity - we are business process partners that focus on delivering order and customer management solutions to media companies. We must help publishers extend their brands to grow revenue from emerging sources, provide them with big data to make big decisions, structure our business to focus on the customer journey, employ and empower creative workers, and consider social media a form of publishing, content distribution and customer interaction.
The magazine industry has seen many changes in the last decade or so. We have gone from a primarily a print focused industry, to an almost completely digital industry. We have now digitized the entire process of our business to the last exact moment of putting ink on paper or in some cases we skip print entirely and distribute our franchise as pixels on one platform or many platforms. How have you and your staff adjusted to the rapid changes in technologies and the different processes required to perform our industry's magic of reaching valuable readers? How have your role and responsibilities changed as the industry has changed?
There is an art and science to our role in the media industry. The science is that we need to rapidly evolve into an organization that enables agnostic distribution across a potentially infinite number of forms, continuing to ever-deepen the relationship with the consumer. As distribution becomes more atomized, the opposite actually occurs with the consumer, who can now be treated as an individual rather than a statistic. That requires a need to build a stronger one-to-one relationship with that consumer, understanding their needs and values.
Would you care to take a shot at what you think is the current state and future of the print business model as compared to the newly forming App model?
The app model for content distribution, as well as the explosive adoption of mobile, suggests that more and more consumers will be ingesting information wherever they go and at whatever time they want. This suggests that magazine apps are likely to grow as an even more important part of a consumers' information ecosystem.
Print's value in a digitally driven ecosystem will be to propel brand value and deepen the consumer relationship. There is growing evidence that the more visceral and uninterrupted relationship a reader has with print creates great brand clarity and loyalty. No pun intended - you get a better "feel' for the brand when you are reading print.
How are you planning for continued technologic progress and the growth of an increasingly multi-platformed playing field? Or put more simply, How do you intend to continually deliver the increasingly higher expectations and needs of your clients?
It takes nothing short of transformation to address the technology changes that are occurring in our industry. (And a lot of money!) There can be no sacred cows. There can be no "this is how we did it yesterday." And there can be no well-intended but damaging over-attachment to print or other traditional forms of content distribution.
This requires culture change, training and the injection of new people and new ideas into the organization. It also requires an ever-deepening partnership with our clients.
Finally, if you could start your operation over again from the start, what would you change or what mistakes would you prefer to avoid?
Our company has a great legacy as a dependable and trustworthy supplier. Starting over, I would have preferred to start with the concept of CDS Global as a strategic partner. We enable great work to be done, which is so much more than maintaining a subscriber, sending out a renewal or invoice, or answering a reader complaint.
Additionally, I wish we could have started with open-source technology and Service Oriented Architecture so that major systems could be more open-ended and easier to modify. I would also have changed our physical and organizational structures sooner to allow for less hierarchy, more decision-making deeper into the organization and a physical environment where there were more "collisions," allowing for information interaction and the fostering of innovation.
We work hard at doing the above, but life would be easier if we had started that way.