Today we’re interviewing Jennifer Barney, Vice President of Acquisitions & Project Management at Publications International, Filament’s partner on the recently released VR Explorations. Jennifer is a seasoned publishing industry expert, and sat down with us to share her take on the past, present, and future of print publishing in the digital age.
Tell us about your role at Publications International. What’s your day-to-day like? My day-to-day varies day-to-day! That’s probably one reason I’ve been here for almost 18 years. Always different, never boring. For example, eighteen years ago very few people had even heard of virtual reality- now here we are producing it for the masses! During my first 15 years here, I worked in our Children’s publishing division managing licensing relationships with the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon and a slew of others. When we sold that division three years ago, I was given the opportunity to stay here and help evolve our other divisions (Automotive, Brain Games, Cooking, General Interest, and Stationery), which ultimately led me to hire your team as a partner on our VR projects.
From your vantage point, how would you describe the state of the print publishing industry in 2018? Print publishing is definitely in a state of flux. We’ve seen a decline in some areas of our business, but an uptick in our “book plus” business, which would include the VR set we produced for Costco this past holiday season. It’s challenging but also exciting to be working for a publishing company during these “digital times.”
How has technology and digital/mobile consumer behavior impacted the print publishing industry in recent years? The easiest place for us to see this impact was actually on our Cooking division. So many people are searching for recipes online these days, and not as many are buying cookbooks. But we’re still supporting cookbooks because there will also always be people who love to hold a book in their hands, and our food photography stands out to the point where people are purchasing our cookbooks as coffee table books and gifts. We’ve also become digital content managers for some of our licensing partners who aren’t quite as tech-savvy as we are! So again, learning to evolve the business to fill a different niche has helped us maintain this segment.
Do you see near-term opportunities for publishers when it comes to digital technology? With some creativity, there are always ways to evolve your print business to align with digital. For example, the VR sets paired books and apps which could stand on their own, but by putting them together we’ve given the consumer a really rich experience that’s a lot of fun but still very educational. Publishers just have to figure out what makes sense in evolving their existing businesses.
What are best practices for combining more traditional printed content with forward-facing digital content? The combination fills a lot of holes: Parents and grandparents are less hesitant to buy the standalone digital component because they see printed books - which are already familiar - along with the apps. It’s a gift they feel good about giving because the recipient is learning something, and the child receiving the gift is excited to experience VR as part of their learning environment. Win-win!
What are the commercial advantages of bundling mixed media like books and VR apps? The great thing about combining VR with printed books in this case was the ability to pique the child’s interest with the app, but then offer the book along with it as a way to learn something more. The app encouraged further exploration of the subject matter which could be fulfilled by reading the book. And what grown-up doesn’t love to see a child reading more?
Our VP of Sales Jennifer Javornik recently wrote about how the VR Explorations kit was a VR experience that bridged generations for her family over the holidays. What sort of design considerations make this kind of product accessible for all ages? Our team loved Jennifer’s article! That’s exactly the kind of experience we were hoping for. A parent or grandparent brings the set into the home and then everyone delights in using the different components of the set. Grown-ups are reading to smaller children, neonates are showing grownups a virtual reality environment for the first time - Jennifer’s story was one of many we heard after this past holiday season. We were so excited to see how it brought families together! In terms of design we were very conscious of not reinventing the wheel - our viewer is modeled on a cardboard viewer many people have seen before. We just added artwork to it to make it a little more fun. And we always include app instructions for the grown-ups in the books. Our experience has been that the kids are fearless - they’ll download the app and be using it already by the time the adults read the instructions, but we like having information on the printed page as well, just in case.
What do you think the future holds for publishing and commercializing mixed media like books and apps? I think the sky is the limit. There are infinite possibilities and we’re excited to be exploring all of them!