Publishing – Print AND Digital AND More

Jeff Hayes
Mar 22, 2012

As society becomes untethered from print-based information and advertising models, publishers continue through a wrenching transformation. The excitement and angst of the industry was felt throughout the Publishing Business Conference and Expo at the New York City Marriott Marquis earlier this week.

The event included an “A-list” of speakers, over 70 innovative technology vendor and service provider exhibitors, and hundreds of attendees from across the magazine, book and media industry. The conference program included over 50 sessions and 120 speakers that provided a valuable combination of strategic insights and practical in-depth advice. Here are a few of the many insights and comments I came away with from the event.

Should We Love You or Fear You?

Josh Tyrangiel, Editor Bloomberg Businessweek, gave an outstanding opening keynote pointing out that the human attention span is a zero sum game. You get one look from your customers. His advice? Make something great and then broadcast it.

Marcus Leaver, President, Sterling Publishing, proclaimed his predictions for the book industry which included:

  • Create beautiful objects — paper, binding, cover, fonts, illustration — real quality matters
  • The world doesn’t need another book — don’t be a sausage factory
  • Niche is good, general is toast
  • Discoverability will be publishers’ greatest challenge
  • Marketing ubiquity — embrace multi-platform, deeply integrated campaigns
  • Your best salesman is the author
  • Don’t innovate for the sake of innovation
  • Customers should decide how they want to consume content

David Carr, Columnist of The NY Times, had an entertaining interview with Josh Quittner the Editorial Director of Flipboard — which was selected as the 2010 Apple iPad App of the Year. His first question for this innovative content curator and social magazine was “Should we love you or fear you?” — which truly gets to the heart of the issue for many content owners and traditional publishers. Quittner’s response was “we only survive if you survive”. Key points and recommendations from Quittner included:

  • Get away from the economics of traditional print
  • Focus on relevant content
  • Solve your distribution problems (which are usually tied to print)
  • Be everywhere
  • Atomize and open up your content … then have great advertising against it
  • Build your network
  • Plan for more streams of smaller revenue
  • We are in a time of unparalleled opportunity

We’re Not 10% of the Way There

Day 2 included a keynote panel of Presidents and CEOs from some of the industry’s most influential and interesting magazine publishers that was moderated by Debbie Bates-Schrott, founder of award winning design agency Bates Creative Group.

David Carey, President of Hearst Publications, echoed Josh Tyrangiel that we are living in an attention span economy. From his perspective Hearst expects very modest growth in print, though it may have a role in small segments such as their new Cosmopolitan Latina edition.

Carey believes digital subscriptions offer an excellent recurring revenue stream. Customers have to opt out of their tablet subscription vs. having to be resold every year to renew their print subscription. Hearst has been one of the most successful B2C publishers and has grown their tablet subscriptions from zero in November 2010 to 600,000 through February 2012.

Key areas of focus for Hearst include HTML5 conversion of publications for mobile viewing and dynamic content driven by the reader’s profile and behavior. Carey believes the magazine publisher of future will have 9 or 10 revenue streams and that many of the trade publishers are further ahead.

Michela O’Connor Abram, President of Dwell Media, commented that publishers have too much dependence on advertising. She chastised them for “not having enough moxie to charge for your content”. For publishing in the future, Abram sees a confluence of content, community and commerce. You need to know your audience and be a great content creator and curator. Make it once and deliver it in many ways.

Paul Miller, the CEO of B2B media and events company UBM Electronics and UBM Canon, wryly said, “There has never been a more exciting time in publishing. I can think of more profitable times.” He expects a lot less print over the next 5 years and lots more mobile. He also pointed out that as a B2B publisher serving the high-tech segment they have had “a front seat in the roller coaster”. Miller added that publishers in the past have been successful by a combination of “ego and accident”. Data changes that. His recommendation? Hire more graduates with mathematics degrees and analytic skills.

Efrem (Skip) Zimbalist, III, the Chairman and CEO of Active Interest Media, noted there are still too many magazines in each vertical. He believes advertisers will spend less on print. Active Media hopes to keep print subscription and newsstand sales flat, and to get growth from digital subscriptions and marketing services. He is very optimistic about tablet subscriptions citing they had 4,000 new subscriptions in Q1 2011, 28,000 in Q4 2011 and 16,000 in January 2012 a 12X increase!

Zimbalist noted that their data indicates 80% of these subscribers are not print subscribers, though some may be from newsstand sales. 30% are from overseas which reinforces his belief that digital enables global distribution. You can be everywhere through your platform. It’s all about reaching customers and maintaining the authenticity of your (publication) brand. When asked about the industry transformation, Zimbalist stated “We’re not 10% of the way there.”

Continuous Innovation

In many respects publishing is thriving like never before. There is incredible innovation that is enabling increased reach, more interaction with readers, greater ability to target marketing and content, new form factors, new pricing and advertising models, and new business opportunities.

But with this innovation old business models are dying. Digital exposes things like never before. Who is reading, what they are reading, when and where they are reading, and how they are interacting with the content and the advertising. Digital also removes friction in how content is created, distributed and monetized. There is less mystery in the business and more competition for consumers’ attention.

Publishers and service providers need to expand their horizons and continuously experiment with new products and services. Take a lesson out of Eric Ries excellent book The Lean Startup. Now is the time to build, measure, learn and pivot to a new direction.

Jeff Hayes

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