William Ford Gibson is an American-Canadian writer who has been called the "noir prophet" of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction. It was Gibson who coined the term "cyberspace" in his short story Burning Chrome. He is also responsible for one of my favorite quotes, which I often used to open my lectures in the early 2000's, "The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed."
In our industry nowhere is that more evident than at the Digital Innovators Summit (DIS) held each year in Berlin. I have had the privilege to attend it for seven years. In doing so I have witnessed the digital transformation of publishing media firsthand and with a global perspective. It is partly this experience that enables me to speak with authority about our industry and its future.
Publishers Are Finding Profits in Diversification
I think the most obvious takeaway from almost every presentation is that the crisis of confidence is over, and we are now in a better state than we were five years ago.
There is now overwhelming proof from multiple global sources that digital can supply revenue and profits. Subscriptions are real and readers, especially those that trend younger, are willing to pay. Parallel to that is the formula of: Quality + Specialization = Premium Pricing.
It was Stephanie Caspar, president of technology and data at Axel Springer, Germany, who opened the first day at DIS. She offered the theme that, "It is not only necessary for media companies to change their work cultures to fight for the future of journalism, but also the media industry needs to work closer together to change the collective culture of the publishing industry as a whole."
She suggested that we are finished with the cycle of uncertainty, and now there are three items to focus on: technology, the customers, and truly understanding the business model. She explained that Axel Springer has successfully turned itself in a media and tech company.
Stephanie also brought up the interesting phrase "customer eccentricity," by which I believe she means that each customer is different, and therefore we need to test our data as much as we can and use that data to create a better unique experience. This use of data was a theme which many speakers reflected on.
Stephanie said companies that have managed to build strong brands can diversify their revenue from paid content to e-commerce and events.
AIM Creates an Ecosystem of Solutions for Its Readers
The theme of diversified revenue was repeated many times over during the conference and none stated it better and showed more examples then Jonathan Dorn of Active Interest Media (AIM). (I have spoken many times of AIM as the perfect poster child of creative magazine media management.)
AIM drills down, looking into every nook and cranny to sniff out unexplored revenue opportunities. They do this with all their titles and divisions. Jonathan said AIM's mission statement was to inspire and enable passion and participation by surrounding customers with accessible content experiences and services.
Jonathan provided us with a few AIM mantras to demonstrate how this is accomplished:
One case study that demonstrates this approach is AIM's Equestrian Division. Jonathan discussed how they built an equine ecosystem within that group which includes:
This kind of creativity is what AIM is all about. My question to every publisher reading this is, are you doing the same? Are you inspiring and enabling your customers' passion? And are you surrounding your customers with accessible content, experiences, and services? This is a tough self-analysis. Other than AIM I have not yet met a publisher who couldn't do more with what they already have. I remember someone at the show saying, if you don't create alternative revenue streams, you have zombie momentum.
Innovation Powers Diversification
My friend Reed Phillips, president of Oaklins International and founder of Oaklins DeSilva+Phillips, was also in Berlin and discussed how mergers and acquisitions require and reward innovation. Reed stressed to the audience that, "Innovation is one of the most critical elements in a magazine exec's responsibilities." He went on to say, "Innovation is the introduction of something new."
I enjoyed Reed's remembrance of New York restaurants 15 years ago, giving examples of businesses that needed to adapt or die. He spoke of expensive restaurants my suppliers used to take me to in the days of irrational selling exuberance. He mentioned high profile French restaurants in New York City, which all went out of business over a period of a couple of years. Reed explained that this was because consumers had shifted away from formal restaurant experiences and wanted informal ones.
Reed also pointed to Pepsi as a smart innovator that diversified it's soda business into bottled water, ice tea, and more, providing the company double digit growth in cecent years.
Bringing it back to publishing, Reed outlined the valuation of media properties. "Print properties are the lowest, with digital media and events and information and data the highest. If you diversify your business, you will get a much higher valuation as you transition into more lucrative areas." Reed then pointed out several case studies from the magazine industry including Vice Media, Forbes, High Times, and a few unnamed companies.
As former graduate of High Times I found it ironic that Reed picked the magazine as an innovator. He said that High Times transformed itself from being just a lifestyle magazine into a more valuable franchise. This was in part spurred by the growth of the cannabis market, but mainly because 71% of revenues come from cannabis events. The company has 20 million unique site visitors and is valued at $70 million, which is 5.5 times revenues.
I would agree that High Times was indeed an innovator, but I prefer the innovation of actually starting the magazine and creating a new genre of magazine altogether with unique battles to fight and win over an industry that didn't know what to do with it. It is still a remarkable success story and still mostly untold.
Another interesting idea from the conference was the idea of structure and how that can help or hinder innovation. Structure follows strategy. If you base your strategy on your existing structure, you limit your potential to what you've already done.
Readers Will Pay for Quality Content
Another speaker and another friend of mine is John Wilpers, author of Innovation in Magazines World Report, who summed up one of the main themes of the conference when he said, "There is so much crap content out there that people are willing to pay for excellence." He also pointed out that today's business environment is more of a Darwinian culling than an extinction. To that I agree.
John pointed out another consistent theme that, "unless you get people to pay for your products and services, you have no future in media." A sobor, pointed, and accurate position to take.
Another speaker was Katie Vanneck-Smith from Tortoise Media. She has a fascinating approach in today's highspeed media environment. She says everyone else is rushing to be the first. We want to slow down and try to understand the news. Not breaking the news, but rather what's driving it.
Tortoise Media is a membership model with no advertising. Katie says she believes that they are not a media brand. That is not just semantics she says, because the world doesn't need another news brand. News has become noise, and too many players are chasing the news and missing the story. Katie told us that Tortoise Media started with five stories a day. Their members wanted one story per day, so Tortoise Media reduced its coverage to just one story per day. CLICK HERE FOR THE ENTIRE ARTICLE
Re: The night artists: Nashville's loyal pressmen face their final deadline … have to say thanks…
Last week I wrote a sober article about the state of digital fraud invading our lives, our families, our jobs and our psyche. I wasn't wrong, as each day new intrusive assaults are discovered.
Last Friday we received news of yet another of what seems like weekly Facebook abominations. Now it has been revealed that Facebook collects intensely personal information secretly from thousands of popular smartphone apps and just seconds after users enter their personal information. Facebook gets it, even if the user has no connection to Facebook. More surveillance for a profit. George Orwell in the book 1984wrote "If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself." Good luck with that, there are no secrets any more. Pretty depressing, right? Well it is, and it should be.
According to The New York Times... Parliament denounced Facebook and its leadership as "digital gangsters." The British are always so damn polite.
But wait, there is a bright side here, and that is print and the magazine industry. It's not that we can prevent what's going on digitally. We can't. But we can be fertile ground for profitability and safety. Print is and should be a shinning beacon standing tall among the fraudsters. There are successes in many places for the magazine print industry and billions still being made.
I go to many magazine conferences all around the world each year. And guess what? There are profitable publishers in every conference. Here is a true example where size doesn't matter. Large or small, many publishers are doing well and creating centers of profitability. I had lunch last week with Alison Dickie, the publisher of a local magazine here in Virginia called Albemarle Magazine. It's a smallish, local publication that has to fight for every dollar. It's not easy, but they do it. And the results are impressive.
In a week or two I'll be having lunch with my friend Bernie Mann, the publisher ofOur State magazine.(196 pages last issue) They are doing gangbusters and, as far as I can tell, they are among the most successful regional magazines in the country.
Last month I spoke at the Canada Magazines Business Summit. Here again is a group of successful B2B publishers.
In a few weeks I'm off to DIS (the Digital Innovators Summit) in Berlin. It is a collection of publishers from around the globe sharing success stories in publishing. Not one of those tales will be about digital abuses of power, but rather about gaining revenue and market share, and from my perspective, honorably.
This year I'll also be attending IRMA International Regional Magazine Association. This is a terrific group of regional print publishers growing and making revenue positive strides.
And dare I not mention Samir's Husni's Annual Magazine conference ACT at the University of Mississippi. As conferences go it is probably the smallest by population, yet the biggest in comradery and geniality. The auditorium is filled with 40 professional speakers and about the same number of journalism/media students. All the publishing professionals represent successful publishing operations.
Let's not forget the printers and paper companies of our industry. They, too, represent on-going strength and successful revenue streams.
I could go on and on, but my point is that print is viable and profitable.
The irony should escape no one that the nature of our product of off-line media is safe and totally non-intrusive to sharing anyone's personal secrets.
Let's use print and thoughtful, thorough journalism to stop, hinder and otherwise mute the digital surveillance network of privacy pirates and not let them distract us from our successes.
BoSacks Speaks Out: I stumbled upon this article today while rummaging through some older files. On November1, 2010 I penned this for Publishing Executive Magazine.
It is simple but important generic advice for staging a successful career. It seems to me that it holds up pretty well eight years later and is worth re-sending. The more seasoned professional subscribers of this publication will already be practicing these skill-sets. But the readership of this newsletter is broad. Not only do we have most of the senior management in our industry, which means most likely your immediate supervisors are readers too, but also new hires as well.
The most important thing to remember is that knowledge is power and industry knowledge is employment power. If you can speak knowledgeably of the entire media process, you are a more desirable candidate for the job you have or, perhaps even more importantly, the job you want to have. Understanding what the other departments actually do is of vital importance. Inter-departmental communication and knowledge facilitates the teamwork of successful and efficient organizations.
You must network and join professional organizations and, if possible, go to trade shows as if your job depends upon it, because it does. If your company won't pay for it, pay for it yourself. Your current job is only a part of your career.
A good professional group has the collective intelligence of the entire industry. They are a tremendous resource. If you have a question or stumble upon an unfamiliar situation, someone in that group knows the answer. If you ever get that pink slip, they know where the new jobs are. Professional organizations are important on many levels, not the least of which is exposure with your contemporaries and possibly your next great boss.
Essentially, you have either a job or a career. Career people stay employed. You must always be working on your career. Stay alert and continue to educate yourself about our industry and good things will happen, because you will be ready to adapt and react with grace and style.
BoSacks: The Profit Prophet: 7 Tips for Advancing Your Career
AD SMACKDOWN: CATS VS DATA - By Bob Hoffman
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What is the BoSacks FREE newsletter all about?
It is purely a very "personal" and slanted collection of news gathered daily over the Internet, which to me seems relevant and useful about the publishing industry. I do this as a labor of love and to keep myself as up to date as is possible with the ever changing and advancing "Information Distribution Industry" formerly known as "Publishing".
And how much does it cost?
The price for this service is nothing. It is Free. It is just as easy for me to copy three or four of my industry friends as it is to carbon copy the current list of 16,500 publishing professionals.