The Changing Landscape Of Publishing

“Those who claim that the future of news is online and only online ignore one critical point: Online ad revenue just isn’t enough to support most news companies, not in the way print advertising does. So for online-only news organizations to survive, they’ll need an as-yet undiscovered business model.” Tony Rogers

Media commentator Tony Rogers may have been specifically talking about newspapers but his sentiment is pertinent to every area of publishing, including the construction press sector within which we operate. The pace of change does of course differ significantly across the market - with the architectural press experiencing the biggest disruption to date – but the underlying shift can’t be ignored.

So as publishers struggle with a reality that “Digital brings in pennies, whereas print products bring in pounds” [Dennis Taylor, Chairman, Unity Media Plc] – how are they adapting their business models to survive?

Extending the brand, with quality content at the core

When music magazine NME’s print circulation dipped below 20,000 its publishing director, Jo Smalley, told the BBC magazine it was not in danger of closing. “The circulation figures are "part of a much bigger picture, which is what the NME is doing as a brand. For some people, print is still very important. For other people, they're interested in engaging with the brand online or via social media. And we're serving those audiences in all those ways."

The NME website gets 1.4m users per week, while the digital edition of the magazine sells 1,307 copies a week, and thousands of people attend NME live events and concert tours.
And this idea of extending the brand is happening in our market too.

Publishers Revo have built the Lux brand across print, digital, conferences and exhibitions. A high quality printed product is core to the offer, yet Revo obviously recognised that to be a success, they had to look at a variety of ways to generate revenue. Ecobuilding and Greenbuild magazines were launched at around the same time: Greenbuild, which has its own exhibition has survived, whereas Ecobuilding has closed. This year we’ll see RCI magazine launch its own branded exhibition – will more follow?

Going forward I think good quality journalism will continue to play a crucial role. Huffington Post CEO Jimmy Maymann predicts that over time there will even be a shift back to people being prepared to pay for it, “because we have information overload and quality journalism delivers a complex thing in a good and meaningful way. We will need more of that because there will be more information overload as the internet matures.”

However, whereas in the past the model was simple – journalism was funded by display advertising – publishers now have to be more creative to secure the advertisers’ pound. They ultimately have to play to their strength, if they continue to be a trusted resource then they can continue to capture the audience – but let’s face it, banner ads and sponsored e-newsletters aren’t going to provide enough revenue.

I think Local Government News is a great example of a publisher looking to ‘work’ its position to best advantage. It has re-positioned its offer, mirroring a lot of what we are seeing in the wider market: A ‘digital first’ strategy which focuses on delivering timely news content on www.localgov.co.uk supported by a shift in tone for its printed magazine, with an emphasis on high level discussion and analysis. LGN’s focus on quality content means it can leverage its reputation and continue to deliver a valuable audience to commercial clients in a variety of ways. From providing access to readers for bespoke research, to being involved in high level conferences or intimate roundtables involving a ‘wish list’ of participants.

Roundtables are certainly something we have seen increasingly offered over the last five years – from FX’s Design Seminar to those from BMJ, FM World, Caring Times and most recently Building Products to name just a few; even The Guardian is getting in on the act. They’re a perfect example of delivering extra value – not only does an advertiser achieve exposure in print and on-line, the magazine also literally delivers a hand-picked audience directly to the client - for face to face networking.

In the past this might have been termed ‘sponsored content’, now – if it appears on-line - it’s called ‘native advertising’, the latest content marketing technique. Back in February, The Guardian launched its own branded content division, where it will have journalists co-creating native content; and although there is still much ethical debate around the method, no doubt the practice will spread.

In our own market, Building’s webinars could, I assume, be classed at ‘native’ – sponsored content delivered via streaming media, with the added benefit that the audience data is captured for further follow up. We’ve seen some great successes in this area, with clients reaching up to 600 listeners.

Data is of course another string to a publisher’s bow and with increasing sophistication they can now deliver much more than ‘reader enquiries’. On average over 800 people are completing Building CPD’s, for example, delivering quality leads to clients.

But of course now it’s not just about creating content, it’s also about promoting it; something I think some of our press haven’t necessarily grasped. Most publications now have some form of on-line presence, although the quality varies significantly. However, I get the impression that in a lot of cases they are just assuming they’ll be found, rather than working hard to pull an audience in.

In an article commenting on the recent “Innovation” report commissioned by the management of The New York Times, Newspaper Death Watch pointed to harsh criticism aimed at the Times’ reluctance to promote its own work. “The legacy of great journalism has become, in many ways, a handicap. Editors believe that journalism alone will carry the paper while competitors invest aggressively in promotion, data analysis and systems to move quickly and double down on success. Publications like The Guardian, Huffington Post and The Atlantic expect staffers not only to promote their own work but to know how to write headlines that maximize sharing potential. Huffington Post won’t publish a story unless it has a photo, a search-optimized headline, a tweet and a Facebook post.”

I wonder how many of our industry magazines monitor how well their content ranks in Google ‘news’ searches? I suspect it’s an area that our sector also has to address.

The model used to be very simple. Journalists wrote copy for a newspaper or magazine that was valued by a particular audience – in many cases enough to pay a cover price. This formed a critical mass based on common ground, which was of value to companies as it offered an effective means of reaching a target audience - it was a vehicle worth paying for. Publishers made money and we all built our brands. Even better, they also offered the opportunity for further - very valuable - exposure through editorial coverage.

As the landscape continues to change, this winning formula becomes more diluted. Only time will tell how our publishers will therefore adapt, in order to survive.

What do you think? Share your views in the comments below or Tweet me @Catherine_CIB

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