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Why I’m Joining Piano

Feb 05, 2018
Industry Insights

By Michael D. Silberman, SVP Strategy

After a decade building the New York Media digital business and new digital brands, and before that helping to create MSNBC.com and the digital news category out of whole cloth, I’m joining Piano Software, the preeminent company providing paywall and user engagement technology and services to top media companies across the industry and around the world. So why, after a career spent making media, have I made this move?

Part of the reason is personal — I’m eager to help build and grow a company and Piano is at an exciting moment as a growing technology company. The main reason is that the digital media business is finally making the shift from attention to user engagement — seeing users as individuals rather than sets of eyeballs, focusing on winning hearts and minds. This is a huge, ultimately positive change that will produce a much healthier media ecosystem. But it’s not going to be easy. It requires new technology, new marketing and product skills and most importantly a change in mindset from content-first to customer-first. Piano, I believe, is uniquely positioned to guide media companies through this transition and have an impact across the entire industry.

If you’re reading this, my guess is you’re in the business and already aware (painfully, perhaps) of the troubled history of the ad-based attention model for digital media. But let’s relive it for a moment: The first 20 years of the consumer internet, especially in media, have been almost entirely about aggregating audience — sites seeking to attract millions, often tens of millions, occasionally hundreds of millions of people, with all those eyeballs “looking” at billions of banner ads. That focus on big, unidentified, often undifferentiated audiences made it possible for media companies to take the existing ad models—based mostly on audience size—and adapt them pretty easily to digital. Yes, there were significant creative and technical challenges in making that shift—learning to create digital stories and to sell and serve digital ads. But fundamentally the model itself didn’t change much.

The relationship with the audience was still largely a one-way, anonymous relationship, despite the new ability to engage directly, to measure behavior and to learn more about that audience. Most media companies were shortsighted, opting to avoid friction-inducing roadblocks like registration in order to maximize unique visitors, pageviews and ad impressions, missing a chance to develop a direct relationship with readers.

The end result: massive harvesting of user data, ad-cluttered sites powered by the ad tech Lumascape, “recommended for you” widgets, ad fraud, and ultimately unhappy, ad blocking users.

Signs of the attention model’s collapse were everywhere in 2017 — from Google and Facebook gobbling up most of the ad revenue and virtually all of the growth to Mashable’s fire sale to big ad revenue misses at Buzzfeed and Vice. It became clear that advertising alone is not enough to support quality media.

Finally, media companies are taking action. In November and December alone, The Atlantic, Business Insider and Wired launched paid products and the New York Times reduced its free story count. More is certainly coming in 2018, especially following Facebook’s pivot away from publishers, and the likely change in publisher audience strategy.

But simply launching a paywall, adding affiliate links or announcing an event series isn’t enough (hello, Buzzfeed). That’s just throwing new revenue streams up against the digital wall like spaghetti. There are four essential elements required for success in the new user-engagement era of digital media: customer knowledge, product strategy, enabling technology and marketing skill.

Let’s dig into each in turn.

Customer knowledge: In the attention era, media companies didn’t need to change their fundamental model. We could still follow an editor-first content strategy — writing about what editors thought was important or interesting. And the ad tech revenue stream didn’t require any understanding of who was reading beyond some basic demographics. Yes, there were audience analytics, paying attention to SEO trends and later social traffic. But the starting point was always what WE thought was interesting. We didn’t truly know our customers. In the user engagement era, understanding the reader (or viewer) has to come first. Whom are we serving? What can we learn about them? What do they need to live their lives, do their jobs or be entertained? Then we can apply editorial and product creativity to serve, surprise and delight them with great products and stories they didn’t know they wanted.

Product strategy: Once you know your customer, developing the right product to serve them takes more than creativity. It also requires focus, experimentation and iteration. In product management terms, it’s “finding product-market fit.” Focus means keeping your eye on the customer you’ve identified when deciding what product ideas to pursue and rejecting ideas that aren’t a fit for those customers. Experimentation and iteration go hand-in-hand — building enough of the product to test it with your customers (or at least a few of them), seeing what works and what doesn’t, and iterating to make changes and improve the product. This method will apply across multiple dimensions of product and business decisions — from editorial and product focus, to features, to pricing. It’s also an ongoing process, continuing even after achieving success.

Technology: While there has been a massive investment over the past 20 years in ad tech, there’s been relatively little investment in software and services to understand and engage with users as individuals, to measure behaviors like loyalty and conversion to repeat usage. Driving user engagement and powering consumer-paid content requires a robust technology platform that provides measurement and reporting, customer messaging, content gating rules, entitlements and payment processing. Moving forward, machine learning will be a powerful tool for anticipating which users are most likely to become loyal and ultimately willing to pay.

Marketing skill: It’s become conventional wisdom among media business observers that President Donald Trump deserves a lot of credit for the recent success driving subscriptions at The New York Times, The Washington Post and other media companies. The follow-up question is often “What happens when the ‘Trump bump’ fades?” Piano’s CEO, Trevor Kaufman, points out that’s a pretty limiting way to look at it. No one asks, “Will consumers pay for Nike shoes?” the way media pundits ask “Will people pay for journalism?” The problem is that most media companies don’t know how to think like product marketers. They generally don’t have the skills in house, haven’t got the tools available and aren’t building marketing into their business plans and P&Ls. So, once you understand your customer, create a compelling product they’re willing to pay for and have the technology support, the last element to put in place is the ongoing marketing plan to drive customers through the engagement funnel. Then Google and Facebook transform from behemoths with the power to slash your audience and destroy your business into just another channel for marketing your product.

The vision we are working toward at Piano is a healthy media market based on true relationships with known customers, enabled by great software tools and smart consulting services. For publishers, creating products that meaningfully connect with a loyal audience will unlock multiple revenue opportunities—whether consumer-paid products, events, merchandise sales or even advertising based on that real customer connection.

I’m thrilled to join the team.

Michael Silberman Joins Piano as Senior Vice President, Strategy

Pioneering digital executive adds publishing expertise, audience insights, industry relationships

New York, NY, February 5, 2018 — Trevor Kaufman, Piano CEO, announced today that Michael D. Silberman is joining the company as Senior Vice President, Strategy. In that role, Silberman will lead marketing and communications for the company, reinforcing Piano’s position as the preeminent company providing tools and services for media companies to drive user engagement, insights and revenue. As a key member of the senior leadership team, he will contribute to overall company strategy along with the future design of Piano products and services.

Silberman joins Piano from New York Media, where he was General Manager, Digital Media, overseeing consumer marketing, product development and business development, leading a team of 45. During his time at New York, Silberman launched Vulture.com and TheCut.com as standalone brands, helped grow digital revenue four-fold and increased monthly unique users from 3 million to 35 million.

“There is simply no one smarter about or more experienced with the business of digital publishing than Michael Silberman,” said Kaufman.  “His track record speaks for itself. I’ve dreamed of putting Michael’s talents to work shaping Piano’s strategy and leveraging his skills on behalf of our clients since we met several years ago, and I’m delighted Piano has grown to the point where we could make it happen.”

“I’m thrilled to join the team Trevor has built,” said Silberman. “Piano is uniquely positioned to help media companies make the shift from the ad-based attention model to focusing on user engagement — winning hearts and minds to develop long-term sustainable businesses based on direct customer relationships.”

Prior to New York, Silberman was Vice President and Editorial Director of Rodale Interactive, overseeing digital content and site experience for eight magazine brands. Silberman was one of the founding editors of MSNBC.com, driving the early strategic direction of the site and partnering with the business and technology teams to build it into a leading digital news destination. He started his career at CBS News, rising from desk assistant to field producer.

Silberman served for two years on the executive committee of Digital Content Next, the leading trade organization for digital content companies and is a longtime board member of DCN. He is also a former board member of the Online News Association and served as treasurer, vice president and president.

For additional information, contact Patrick Appel, patrick.appel@piano.io, (646) 350-1999

About Piano

Piano is the digital content monetization and audience intelligence platform for the world’s largest and most sophisticated media companies. The company’s award-winning, high-performance enterprise platform includes a subscription commerce engine (Piano VX), a customer experience toolkit (Piano Composer), and a user management system (Piano ID) that serve as a comprehensive product suite for media businesses across digital platforms. Piano clients include NBC Universal, Business Insider, Bloomberg, AOL, Gatehouse, The Economist, Hearst, Bonnier, Digiday, The Postmedia Network, Condé Nast, Grupo Abril, and over 1,300 other media outlets.

Piano and Digiday to appear at the PPA 2017 Customer Direct Conference

Oct 20, 2017
Events

Piano’s Jonas Rideout and Digiday’s Brian Morrissey will be sharing the stage at the PPA 2017 Customer Direct Conference. This is the must-attend event for direct and digital marketing professionals looking to gain loyal customers through paid subscription and content monetization.

The focus for this year’s event is ‘The Customer Relationship’ and it’s happening at the Jumeriah Carlton Tower Hotel in London on Thursday November 16.

“It’s an honour for Piano to be appearing at the Conference,” said Jonas. “As Piano software powers the Digiday subscription platform – Digiday+, it will be great to share the stage with Brian.”

Jonas and Brian will be hosting a talk called ‘Making A Commitment: Conversion to a Paid Customer’. Brian will tell the story of how Digiday turned hard won audiences into subscribers and customers, and Jonas will contribute data and insights about paid content from his experiences at Piano.

As the Global Business Development Director at Piano, Jonas has helped media companies such as The Economist, Bloomberg and NBC Sports to forge meaningful relationships with their audiences and to drive digital revenues using Piano’s content monetization and audience intelligence platform.

Digiday takes a global view of the media and marketing industries and confronts the truths in technology’s disruption of them. Led by Brian, they cover these industries with the expertise, depth and tone you won’t find anywhere else. Digiday connects with its audience across the web, email, podcasts, a quarterly magazine, a membership program and in-person events.

Piano will be playing an active role at the PPA Customer Direct Conference. Jonas will be joined at the conference by Tim Rowell, our new European Client Experience Director. He is on the judging panel for the PPA 2017 Customer Direct Awards and is also helping to moderate the round table sessions.

For more information, please contact beverley.russell@piano.io

NEWSCYCLE and Piano Form Official Partnership

May 04, 2017
Press releases

The leading providers of enterprise software for media announce platform integration and bundled offering

New York, NY, May 04, 2017  NEWSCYCLE Solutions and Piano Software have entered into a formal partnership to integrate their product suites and foster collaboration between their executive teams. This agreement, which includes the alignment of product roadmaps and the sharing of resources, promises to significantly increase the value of each company’s software solutions. 

NEWSCYCLE and Piano are perfect complements for each other,” said Trevor Kaufman, Piano CEO. “Our technologies are already used in combination at some of the biggest and most innovative media companies around the world. This new partnership is an opportunity to ensure that our clients are getting the greatest returns possible from our technologies. We have enormous respect for the ecosystem that NEWSCYCLE has built and are honored to contribute to its continued success.” 

As a first step of the partnership, NEWSCYCLE will become an official reseller of Piano’s technologies, including Piano Composer. Composer is Piano’s signature customer experience product, which makes creating, managing, and testing any kind of content monetization solution a simple, drag-and-drop process. Composer will allow NEWSCYCLE clients to easily personalize and optimize user experiences, presenting exactly the right message at exactly the right moment to achieve maximum conversion. 

“Composer is a powerful product we expect to resonate with our clients,” said Preston McKenzie, NEWSCYCLE CEO. “NEWSCYCLE’s mission is to deliver software that empowers the global media industry and helps to drive action. Piano shares that goal. We’re delighted to partner with Piano to better serve our clients in the media industry and to continue to provide them with cutting-edge software across their entire technology stacks. Our combined offering creates an all-in-one customer experience solution that meets a publisher’s every need.”

Piano and NEWSCYCLE are investing significant human and technological resources into the partnership. The development teams of both companies are currently scoping out intersection points in their product roadmaps and will make announcements about new integrations as they become available.

About Piano

Piano is the digital content monetization and audience intelligence platform for the world’s largest and most sophisticated media companies. The company’s award-winning, high-performance enterprise platform includes a subscription commerce engine (Piano VX), a customer experience toolkit (Piano Composer), an analytics product (Piano AI), and a user management system (Piano ID) that serve as a comprehensive product suite for media businesses across digital platforms. Piano clients include NBC Universal, Business Insider, Gannett, AOL, Gatehouse, The Economist, Hearst, Bonnier, National Geographic, Digiday, The Postmedia Network, Condé Nast, Grupo Abril, and over 1,300 other media outlets. To learn more, please visit piano.io or email hello@piano.io.

About NEWSCYCLE Solutions

NEWSCYCLE develops and delivers software technology that empowers the global newsmedia industry. Our editorial, advertising, circulation and mobile solutions enable publishers to drive profitability, accelerate digital business models and optimize core print operations. We help our clients create stronger, better-informed communities while safeguarding the integrity of news, advertising and customer information. NEWSCYCLE is a trusted partner serving over 1,200 media companies with 3,000 properties producing more than 8,000 titles in 30 countries. Our company is headquartered in Bloomington, MN and has U.S. offices in Florida, Michigan and Utah; with international offices in Denmark, Germany, Malaysia, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Canada and the United Kingdom. Please visit newscycle.com for more information or write to us at info@newscycle.com.

Piano Expands London Operations

May 03, 2017
Press releases

The premiere provider of content monetization solutions in North America deepens its footprint in the United Kingdom.

London, UK, May 3, 2017Piano is expanding operations and investing in brand awareness throughout the UK and other European markets, opening a new office in London. Piano is the digital content monetization and audience intelligence platform for the world’s largest and most sophisticated publishers, including NBC Universal, Hearst, and Condé Nast. Piano is celebrating its UK expansion by sponsoring the Innovation Stage at the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) Festival on May 10th at Tobacco Dock, London.

“Leading UK publishers who we already work with, such as the Economist and the London Review of Books, know the difference that Piano can make,” said Jonas Rideout, Piano’s Business Development Global Head. “We can’t wait to show the rest of the UK publishing world just how dramatically our software increases digital revenues. The PPA event is a wonderful opportunity for Piano to showcase who we are and what we can do.”

Piano’s award-winning SaaS product suite accelerates the development and performance of paid content initiatives, minimizes ad blocking, significantly increases registrations and newsletter signups, boosts social engagement, and facilitates the promotion and sale of tickets to events. The company’s enterprise platform includes a subscription commerce engine (Piano VX), a user experience tool (Piano Composer), an analytics product (Piano AI), and an identity management system (Piano ID), allowing publishers to rapidly test, analyze, refine, and perfect business strategies.

“Piano’s products have a bit of magic in them,” said Jonathan Hebbes, Piano’s new UK Sales Director. “Once publishers see the software in action, it sells itself. The challenge is getting the word out. Sponsoring of the Innovation stage at the PPA as a small but important first step in making the UK market fully aware of Piano’s phenomenal suite of services and products.”

Publishers attending the PPA Festival who would like to arrange an introductory meeting with the Piano team can do so at any time by emailing jonathan.hebbes@piano.io or calling 07715 419678.