Building a Modern Media Company: Lessons from MediaNext

Bryan Yeager
Jan 17, 2013

Many magazine publishers continue to face challenges in diversifying their revenue mix beyond print advertising, leveraging social media to engage with new audiences, and distributing & monetizing their publications across a growing array of mobile platforms. Last week’s MediaNext Show in New York City—a magazine media industry conference put on by FOLIO Magazine—tried to address these issues by tapping a substantial number of seasoned digital media experts for keynotes and sessions aimed to spark to help provide perspective on how magazine publishers can effectively compete in a marketplace that is increasingly digital and continuously evolving.

The event’s first keynote speaker—James Bankoff, Chairman and CEO of Vox Media, which is a pure-play digital media company that operates the SB Nation, The Verge, and Polygon properties—gave an insightful talk about building a modern media company. He outlined a number of key elements that drive the success of Vox’s properties, such as focusing on great design, being able to scale rapidly, hiring great talent to deliver high-quality content, and relying heavily on technology support real-time responsiveness and innovation—for editorial and advertising. According to Mr. Bankoff, Vox Media’s revenue is 95% ad-based, and he believes that its approach to adopting native advertising delivers greater value (and results) to advertisers compared to programmatic buying that publishers have less control over.

Another keynote speaker—Dan Roth, the Executive Editor of LinkedIn—highlighted how the business-oriented social network has built its own publishing capabilities to deliver relevant news stories across many different users’ industries. While the “In-Share” button embedded on many websites helps feed what stories get pushed to different users, LinkedIn also has its own editors to help curate that content. In other words, while algorithms can help find important stories, the human touch is also needed. Roth also underscored the importance of publishers cultivating communities of their readers, which provides a feedback loop that can influence future topics and stories.

Many of the conference breakout sessions also featured important takeaways for traditional publishers from the digital media set. Rafat Ali, a digital media entrepreneur and the founder of paidContent, talked about his experience in building a lean digital media startup, primarily focusing on his latest venture called Skift. Ali describes Skift as “travel intelligence media” that covers the travel industry from a B2B perspective. With only five people on staff including Ali, he underscored the need to use a mix of original content and curated licensed content to help quickly achieve scale. Additionally, he revealed that to receive venture capital funding, it was imperative that he hire a top-notch web developer to give his investors peace-of-mind that the site could quickly adapt, iterate, and ultimately succeed.

As to be expected, mobile was also a significant topic at MediaNext, with many sessions dedicated to helping magazine publishers understand different approaches, technologies, and workflows for reaching readers on their tablets and smartphones. With the recent news of Hearst Corporation reaching 800,000 paid digital subscribers for its magazine properties, publishers see a bright future in building and monetizing a mobile audience. Plenty of exhibitors were also showcasing their solutions to help publishers go mobile, as well, including Genwi, Godengo+Texterity, iMirus, Mag+, MEI, NxtBook Media, Qmags, RealView, TapEdition, and YUDU Media.

Adobe, arguably the biggest player in this space with its Digital Publishing Suite, did not exhibit but did have a substantial presence at the show through its sponsorship, including a conference kickoff session with their Director of Business Development, Nick Bogaty. Bogaty announced the release of a “first issue free” feature for DPS, which will let users publish apps that automatically download a free issue when the app is opened for the first time. He also stated that the DPS team’s focus for 2013 includes tighter social integration and content delivery on smaller-format mobile screens.

While traditional magazine publishers have been building up their digital media properties over the past decade-plus, recent InfoTrends research shows that print advertising and print subscriptions still comprise the lion’s share of their revenues. MediaNext provided important perspectives from experienced players in the pure-play digital media space on how magazine publishers can further diversify their revenue mix by being more agile online, experimenting with different monetization tactics, and reaching new audiences via the mobile channel.

You can find more information on InfoTrends’ recent research on emerging trends in digital media adoption among magazine and book publishers here.

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