Industry Voices

Ashwin Saddul | Founder & Managing Director | Better Than Paper

By Jess Browne-Swinburne

1 Apr 2020

Ashwin Saddul is the Founder and Managing Director of Better than Paper, a service that helps to democratise the publishing industry by providing publishers of all sizes with cost-effective software to build digital magazines. From the start "it was all about levelling the playing the field and giving publishers the chance to experiment with their own format," Saddul explains. "The technology is affordable so you can go out and experiment, fail quickly and learn quickly."

What was it that made you want to work in the publishing industry?

Back in the 90’s – I was really into my youth lifestyle magazines and grew up with iconic brands such as Sky, The Face, ID and music stations like Kiss FM – so I had genuine love of media back then. I also co-founded a student radio station in 1997 (which is still running now!) whilst at university so it was my passion of media that led me to this industry.

Chart your career from the start to where you are now.

My first media publishing job was on the graduate programme at EMAP Advertising working on brands such as Kiss FM, FHM, Empire and Mixmag. I got out of the media industry for a year then got back in through TalkSport where I spent six or seven years and was responsible for launching a new digital magazine (pre-iPad days) where I was advertising director. I saw an opportunity that this was where it was all going so I thought about launching a business that would help magazines migrate to digital. The iPad was then launched and I teamed up with some university friends and decided to launch a company that allowed media brands to create applications.

What made you want to set up Better than Paper and provide this service to publishers and brands?

We were inspired by a piece of tech called Flipboard – a dynamic magazine that updated constantly. The premise was that huge amounts of content was surfacing around the web so we wanted to create a really slick platform that could aggregate and curate that content at scale and allow brands to create customer magazines. It was essentially about rapid creation of magazines by harnessing the power of the web. We worked with banks, insurance companies and then moved into the publishing sector. We aim to support publishers who are in the process of a digital transformation and help out businesses that are looking to cut costs and repackage their content into digital format. Effectively we are democratising publishing technology to make it affordable and accessible to all types of publishers. It was all about levelling the playing the field and giving publishers the chance to experiment with their own format. The technology is affordable so you can go out and experiment, fail quickly and learn quickly.

How can Better than Paper provide support to media publishers during this time?

A lot of publishers are struggling to get their newspapers out there. The print cost is huge and the distribution has been disrupted. Better than Paper can launch a digital newspaper site within a day: this includes personalisation, social integration and the design. We can launch digital magazine apps within 1-2 days as well.  We want to help publishers in any way we can to ensure their continuation of services so they should come and talk to us and we can figure out a solution. In times of crisis, digital does provide a cost-effective solution and an opportunity to connect with customers in their homes and build out digital communities.

What advice would you give media publishers looking to make the most of their digital platforms during this time?

I would say to traditional publishers who are looking into an abyss, where ad spend has been put on hold, look at other ways of monetising like subscription models and donation models, launch digital hubs to create communities engaged (in place of live events) with populated content or create long-term ad packages.

What opportunities could these unprecedented times present publishers?

With the nation staying at home and being restricted, the need to stay connected, informed and entertained has never been greater. Now is the time for the media and magazines to think of themselves as a marketplace where readers can be informed, and advertisers can transact with their readers. Any media proposition that facilitates this mutually beneficial process will do well in this challenging environment. Magazines are now marketplaces where customers and businesses can transact together.

What top tips do you have for working from home?

Every home is different with a unique set of dynamics and challenges. I have three young children to home school and run a business, so you need to manage their time as well as your own. Don’t set unrealistic expectations and try to achieve balance and structure.

What magazine would you stockpile?

Condé Nast Traveller is great for a bit of escapism and armchair travelling and WIRED

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Ashwin Saddul is the Founder and Managing Director of Better than Paper, a service that helps to democratise the publishing industry by providing publishers of all sizes with cost-effective software to build digital magazines. From the start "it was all about levelling the playing the field and giving publishers the chance to experiment with their own format," Saddul explains. "The technology is affordable so you can go out and experiment, fail quickly and learn quickly."