Tech partnerships are crucial to keep up to speed in digital

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Acquiring or partnering with technology start-up firms in order to gain skills quickly is a growing trend among publishers.

Trinity Mirror announced today that it is partnering with London-based content targeting firm Rummble Labs (nma.co.uk 13 January 2012). It also acquired mobile and email specialist Communicator Corporation last week, while the Financial Times bought Assanka, the company behind its web app.

Paul Hood (pictured), Archant Media digital director, said, “There’s better understanding and acknowledgement among publishers that technology is one of the fundamental enablers required to extract maximum value from one of our core assets: high-quality content.

“As content is now being consumed on a multitude of devices and in many different contexts, it needs to be organised in ways that allow it to travel, be discovered and be relevant. Technology is the key to that. A linear or single strand approach isn’t sufficient. Until the pace of change slows, partnering is a great strategy that allows publishers to move quickly and cover lots of positions.”

The FT has worked with Assanka since 2006 when it developed its Alphaville blog. More recently it has been heavily involved in the FT’s mobile offering, after developing its mobile site, HTML5 web app and Android app.

Mary Beth Christie, FT online product management director, said, “While it’s a third party we’ve always considered it to be right there with us the whole way, so the acquisition is almost a natural extension of what we’ve been doing.

“It enables us to keep innovating and keep up-to-date with the newest platforms available. It gives us a lot more opportunity to be nimble out there and try things. We think [Assanka] is going to raise the waters across the board in our technology group.”

Assanka will remain in its own premises and will keep its independent culture, but it has not yet been decided whether the company will keep the Assanka name.

There has been speculation that the FT made the acquisition to avoid further clashes with third party app store owners following its fall-out with Apple over the 30% commission it charges, but according to Christie, the main issue it had with Apple was the change to subscription rules.

“The commission was a secondary issue,” she said. “The primary issue was that we have to know our users because we strongly believe that one of the reasons we’re so successful is that with one login you can view our content on any device. So one login allows you to see it on a desktop, a tablet or a phone. We don’t want to complicate a user’s life, and it would absolutely have changed our core business model if we had gone along [with it].”

Publishers have long relied on external technology firms to bring additional value to their company, but Christie reckons the move to establish partnerships and acquire tech firms may be a new trend.

“I don’t think this has just started. You might be seeing it as a growing trend, and the acquisition of tech firms probably is, but the need to bring in really talented engineers has been a need for probably a decade and this just might be another way to try and do that.”

She says a lot of traditional print businesses don’t have the talent they need in-house in order to succeed in a digital world, or if they do it’s not yet at the right level.

“It’s an interesting shift because it means your technology team needs to be as talented as your editorial team. The partnership and the way you work is also different from a pure print group so you need to bring people in that have a fresh and collaborative approach to working together. In very traditional print organisations it tends to be quite hierarchical whereas in dotcom start-ups it’s more collaborative, so just bringing in that culture is a very good thing.”

Hood reckons this is a trend that will continue throughout 2012.

He added, “I think we’ll see a dual approach of publishers beefing up their in-house product development capabilities as well as using partnerships to test and exploit synergies. At Archant we’re doing both. For example, there are some great apps that have been developed for London which haven’t achieved audience scale, but which through partnership with London’s largest local publisher could really fly.”

Archant will be announcing some tech partnerships shortly and is actively looking for others.

Conversely, MailOnline MD James Bromley says it has always done everything in-house and will continue to do so.

He said the companies who are making these acquisitions “obviously think they are buying the skills they don’t currently have internally, whereas we’ve always fostered development internally so our focus is to just continue exactly as we are”.

This story first appeared on New Media Age. For more digital stories and analysis’ from NMA click here now

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