If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’re probably paying through the nose for some sort of digital platform to get your content out on the web or mobile.

But if you’re building your own products and platforms as well, is it possible you could be cashing in by offering your technology on a third-party license basis?

We’ve profiled three examples of publishers who are succeeding in licensing their technology to others. 


Future Folio: Old school expertise

Specialist consumer magazine publisher Future developed its Future Folio platform to convert print publications for the launch of Apple’s Newsstand in 2011. The platform enabled them to be one of the biggest presences on the Newsstand at launch and digital editions now bring in more than $1 million per month in sales

So given that so many people are struggling to get tablet publishing right, why not help them? 

“The biggest challenge publishers have is how to create your content once and publish it to many channels,” Richard Walker, Future’s director of consumer revenues tells TheMediaBriefing. “We felt our technology could help other publishers do that.”   

Despite using the Folio platform for their own publications extensively, Future still faced a challenge in re-working the platform for external use. 

“Obviously in an internal project you are more forgiving in how slick and productised your offering is. When you are working internally you accept it might not be as user-friendly, processes aren’t necessarily as slick but you work together to deliver,” he says.

“When it is external and once-removed, there’s a level of hand-holding and making the interface easier to work for others. That took a couple of months to ensure it was understandable.”

As part of that process Future brought in a project manager with software experience who could run the concurrent development schedules that most in publishing are unfamiliar with. 

The Folio platform is currently used by 15 clients to deliver a total of 50 titles – including a tie-up with Autotrader on an interactive app called ignition. The next step is making the platform more effective at delivering editions for iPhones as well as iPad.

“Making sure we are delivering effectively to both devices has been something of a hiccup, something where we underestimated the difficulty,” says Walker.

“We are already working on getting that specific device delivery that’s a bit one to crack.”

Atavist: Multimedia at its heart

Unlike Future, digital publisher The Atavist started out with a technology platform at its core. It was founded in 2011 by former New Yorker and Wired journalists who wanted to produce long-form journalism that people would pay for.

And now it’s making money by offering writers and publishers including TED and the Wall Street journal access to its tools to make ebooks, online magazines and publishing apps.

“The structure is there for anyone to use, but after it goes live we’ll have a pricing structure,” says Atavist director of engagement Crystal Fawn Williams. “Do you want to customise within the app. Do you really need an app? Do you want a paywall? There are lots of technological questions to answer.”

Williams says the Atavist has the resources to quadruple the number of clients it works with to customise the platform, and that doesn’t just include publishers: “I think it will start with magazines, periodicals and publications, but another possibility is larger corporate entities that need to update their content such as human resources departments.” 

Atavist has made a basic version of its platform free to use, but has licensed more customised versions to six publishers including WSJ.

It is now planning to expand that programme – charging publisher customers who want more based on a sliding scale of how much they want to modify the platform’s basic templates.


Bonnier and Mag+: A whole separate business

One of the most advanced examples of a publisher licensing its technology to rivals and others outside publishing is Mag+, a native app development platform developed by Swedish magazine publisher Bonnier in 2011.

Publishers can download the Mag+ software and create an app – with pre-release support – but once they want to publish they must sign an agreement with Mag+.

Mag+ is used for around 1,000 apps from 650 different customers, including Bloomberg, IDG’s MacWorld, the newly independent British Journal of Photography and Bonnier’s own Popular Science. Those apps are heavily weighted towards Apple, with around 900 on the iOS platform and the remainder on Android.

Mag+ CEO Gregg Hanno, a former Bonnier vice president, tells TheMediaBriefing the firm is now looking to expand geographically and offer the platform to corporate non-publisher customers:

“Content is content,” says Hano. “There are people who are interested in the Mercedes-Benz brand and they would love a story of the history of Mercedes-Benz, an interview with an engineer who just built the new 500 (car), how do the break systems work, what makes this great transmission etc.

“What a great way for a company to get brand advocates. That’s our vision for the future – a much wider palette (of content) than we’ve played on so far.”

Mag+ is already working to prepare for the impact of HTML5, which could bypass the native app ecosystems its business is based on. 

“We are actively working through those scenarios,” says Hano. “I don’t think it is a threat at this moment – but we have to keep our eyes open and we are actively working on ways that can migrate to HTML5 beautifully.”

Break with tradition

All three of the people we talked to for this article talked about moving into helping corporate customers deliver content. That mirrors a similar drift in the B2B market, where sponsored content and marketing services are becoming a bigger part of what a publisher has to do.

It’s a move away from the publish and hope model of previous years but it does at least reflect the fact journalists and publishers are still seen as the experts when it comes to publishing all kinds of content.