This week myself and our social media specialist, Zoe Wyatt, had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at an event called Thriving in the Age of Digital Publishing, a ‘tech clinic’ on innovation in Queensland publishing. The event was run by the Business Innovation Services unit of the Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts in partnership with the Australian Institute of Commercialisation and was targeted at a wide range of publishers from across the state including those with single titles, multiple titles, newspapers and magazines.
The event was much needed. In short, out of all the industries on LinkedIn, newspapers and traditional media forms are experiencing the biggest decline. In stark contrast, digital publishing is experiencing the biggest increase.
Having come from a media background (my first journalism gig was on the sports desk of the main daily newspaper of my home town of Wellington at the tender age of 16, I started my own secondary school sports newspaper at 17 and worked in media roles in newspapers, magazines and online in New Zealand and the UK through my 20s) I certainly knew where the 30 to 40 publishers in the room were ‘coming from’; and with my experience in the online world (and innate opinion) I was happy to give them my two cents worth.
It was an onerous task to take the stage immediately after Spiros Kotsialos, digital delivery general manager for News Corp, but I spoke from the heart, as I always do, and my slot was on digital strategies and potential business models.
So what did I tell them?
The fact is there have been numerous casualties within this industry over a period of time, but at an increasing rate more recently. To name but a few in Queensland alone, in March this year we lost The Weekender and all Journals on the Sunshine Coast, in April the Queensland Business Review, Queensland 400 and Book of Lists and the Gold Coast Mail and Robina Mail have also all gone by the way side.
As I am telling lots of businesses at the moment, certainly not just publishing, it’s high time to get your head out of the sand and continue to be busy being busy. If you do, you risk not having a business to be busy in any longer.
The question in this case, as it is with many businesses across all industries, is actually not ‘How do we become more digital?’ it is in fact ‘How do we completely review and potentially revise our business model to become more profitable and sustainable?’
Four possible business models
As far as I can see there are four potential business models when it comes to publishing:
1. Replicate the publication experience online
Many regional publications have gone this way in a token gesture to get with the digital age using technologies such as Issue, Yudu and similar which basically take their printed product, and turn it into a PDF online, with the ability to flip pages and zoom in on articles. Not particularly time consuming, which is good. Not particularly expensive, which is good. In my mind, not particularly effective, which is bad.
2. Go purely online
There are several examples of publications who were once offline such as Anthill magazine who are now entirely online. Others are starting off life as a purely online product with the thought of potentially getting enough interest and advertising dollars to produce hard copies (eg. AusMumpreneur), while others have no intention at all of taking on expensive print runs and distribution runs – the bane of most publishers lives (eg. Adore Home).
3. Put up a pay wall
In your online travels you may have stumbled onto one of these – either a taste test of an article, and then an instruction to buy, or an entirely ‘buy it or leave it’ approach. The likes of the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times have all gone this way. I think it’s important to note that these are ‘uber-publications’ with seriously established brands and followings.
Whilst it’s a lovely idea that you could be making a buck for every download of every article, miraculously turning you into a money magnate, my gut feeling is the reality will be a lot harsher. While the argument exists that people will pay for information they really want, I’d counter-argue that it would have to be very well researched and exclusive content to incite a desire so strong to pay for it, to overpower the alternative of seeking the information elsewhere online, and for free.
Of all the models listed above, if I had to pick one to put my money on, I’d probably go with this one. This is where some information is made available for free, with a stepped approach to pay for more exclusive content, an approach News Ltd has currently gone with. There are many examples of other industries, particularly in the software space using this business model with a good level of success. Just think of all the cloud-based solutions which offer the ability to try it for free for 30 days, pay a limited amount for a limited service, and then grow into higher plans as you better understand the offering and are coaxed into paying larger amounts for it.
Only time will tell which business model is indeed the winner, but in the mean time, the great thing about being a part of the event is that I witnessed more than a few ‘light bulb’ moments at the event, and can’t wait to see some of the dramatic, though positive, changes some of those present in the room will make.
It was heartening to see a wide range of great service providers in the room including Oomph (a smart digital publishing/tablet platform), webqem (who specialise in the Adobe offerings), pixelnatives (who have great app solutions) and City Desktop training who train people in the use of a wide range of software.
If you’re in the publishing game, I encourage you to go check them out, or suggest those you like in comments.