Author Archives: Martin Cloake

Publishing Expo: Demise? PPA chair proclaims ‘golden age’ for industry

PPA chair Barry McIlheney proclaimed a new “golden age” for the publishing industry at a closing Publishing Expo keynote which saw leading figures in bullish mood. New research drawn from inside the industry indicates it has much to be confident about, but only if it gets its thinking right – the ABC council got a kicking for not moving with the times.

The session started with Jim Bilton of Wessenden Marketing presenting the results of the big Publishing Futures survey. This asks industry insiders what their view of the business is and where they see themselves in two years – so that a more accurate picture of what is actually happening can be gained. Some 101 companies representing 3,902 brands contributed and the results come as a surprise for a trade which has seemed obsessed with its own demise.

Across the survey, publishers predicted turnover would be up an average of 6.8 per cent. Headcount is rising again. The focus has moved to developing new revenue streams and away from cutting costs. Confidence is growing. And print is still, in Bilton’s words, “massively important – the engine room of the business, providing 68 per cent of revenue overall”.

The mood, he said, seemed to be changing from impending doom to one of “fear that digital will slip through our fingers because there are so many opportunities.” Publishers were now asking ‘have we got the resources to manage and develop the available revenue streams?’ he said, and highlighted one comment in the survey which said: “We need to be more positive and bold and stop the corporate dithering.”

Bilton opened the panel discussion by asking: “Are we in the middle of something, and if so what is it?” McIlheney responded by calling the survey “fantastically encouraging” and saying that it showed “if you have the assets you are on the verge of a golden age”. That may seem an entirely predictable point of view for a PPA chair, but Dennis CEO James Tye put some flesh on the bones:

“We are not on the verge of change, ” he said. “We are 10 years in.” He added that at Dennis: “We don’t talk about print or digital any more – we’ve moved to a brand model. We think about total revenue and total profit from the brand.”

Spectator chief Ben Greenish echoed the back-to-basics theme of the two-day gathering when he said: “I haven’t thought of myself as a publishing person for 10 years. It’s about media. It’s always been like this.” And Shortlist Media’s Mike Soutar talked of being “on the brink of an exciting moment because we have a set of businesses which are not declining at the rate we thought they would”. He said Shortlist, which has made a success of the print freemium model, was “gearing up digitally and internationally because we are convinced we have to do it now – the moment can be fleeting”.

Bilton posed the question “Is digital a business for large players only?” and both Greenish and Soutar argued not.

Greenish said: “Being able to be fleet of foot is key. Being small means you can try things. We are making much of what we do up as we go along and we are relaxed about it. If you fail in a big business you lose your job.” Soutar drew on his experience at IPC to say: “We succeeded when we could operate small, move fast and try things out, then use big muscle to maximise what works.” He said “being small is critical to creativity”.

This led to some discussion of staff, recruitment and skill sets. Greenish said: “We kidded ourselves that we can all do digital as well. You have to employ people who have the focus and expertise to do the job.” He warned of seeing digital as “the thing you do after print”. And James Tye worried about “living in denial”, saying that his concern was “the lack of knowledge of systems skills and systems deployment at senior level”.

As the session seemed to be drawing to a close, a question from the floor sparked some strong criticism of the ABC council. Panel members complained of not being able to include iPad subscriptions in circulation figures and the ABC Council was accused of “dragging its feet” and being “shamefully behind”.

The clear message was that the industry needed a clear metric for measuring circulation in these changed times, and the ABC itself was under threat if it didn’t come up with one.

It was an explosive end to a session which surprised and stimulated and showed, to shamelessly plunder a cliché, that rumours of the publishing industry’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Publishing Expo: Tablets, smartphones and strategies

Talk at this year’s Publishing Expo is rapidly taking on a back-to-basics theme, with some big names at this morning’s keynote session suggesting the industry took its eye off the ball and forgot about content.

With BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas in the chair, Neil Thackray from the Media Briefing, consultant Dominic Jacquesson and designer Jeremy Leslie from Magculture.com attempted to thrash out where the industry is going, and whether it’s in the right direction.

Jacquesson opened up with a summary of a report he’s just compiled for the Media Briefing.

“This shows that most of your readers will own a smartphone or tablet by 2015,” he told the crowd crammed into the session. Mobile apps, he said, were here to stay, with app downloads set to hit the 24 billion mark by 2013.

What’s also vital, Jacquesson said, is “the simple pay environment” that Apple has created.

Facebook was also a major feature of the discussion. It’s set to be a predominantly mobile app-based service by 2012 and, with the average user spending one-and-a-half hours a day on it, “it is your major competitor said Jacquesson. He takes the view that circulations of print publications will halve in five years, with time spent on mobile devices eating into media consumption time.

Neil Thackray followed up by warning that it was wrong “to be seduced by the beauty and wonder of the iPad“. He said consumers would “get used to it” and so “we shouldn’t just spit out a magazine as an iPad app.” He urged the industry to “go back to first principles and ask ‘what can we produce that readers find interesting or useful. Then provide them with a suite of applications to enable them to engage with what you produce.”

Jeremy Leslie agreed. “Don’t forget to ask ‘why?’,” he said. “What is your audience? What do you want to give them? What is the best way of doing it?” he also took issue with Jacquesson’s view that time spent on social media eats in to traditional media consumption, using the example of his 15-year-old son who “organises his life on Facebook and watches TV at the same time”.

There was some discussion of the Daily when Thackray chipped in with the comment that “we need to do things that are simple, not complicated.” The Daily was “bloody complicated” he said. Leslie added that it was “too generic. You need a tone of voice in what you say and in your design.”

Thackray asked “Why do we think we can do what we did in traditional media on new devices?” His advice was to “go out and find out about all the different things that can be done with a smartphone or tablet app.” Jacquesson agred, saying: “If the print circulation is going down, the right solution cannot be to build an app version of the print product.”

But he also said: “Successful apps have been a continuation of a strategy already in place.” He used the example of Autotrader, which developed an app on top of its existing offer which used location services to put buyers in touch with dealers and offer them the chance to contact them in return for a slice of the completed deal.

Leslie closed on an optimistic note, talking of “natural readjustment” in a industry “where too many mags were chasing too few readers”.

“Even if the number of mags does fall 50 per cent, there are still 25 per cent more mags than there were 20 years ago.”

This may seem blasé, but Leslie’s point was echoed by the panel. Future success will be in innovation and quality content, rather than in simply embracing whatever technology comes along.

Image by curious lee on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

‘The tipping point is now’: BBC and Future outline mobile strategies at Publishing Expo

Engage with your readers, use your existing skills, keep doing what you do well – these were the messages coming from the big digital keynote debate at Publishing Expo. It was standing room only at a session which saw Rebekah Billingsley, BBC Worldwide mobile devices publisher, and Mark Wood, boss of Future UK, among those explaining how they were getting to grips with digital, multiplatform reality.

Billingsley opened by underlining the importance of mobile, saying “the tipping point is now” as she quoted research that showed access to material via mobile devices is set to outstrip access via desktop by 2013. BBC Worldwide publishes Focus and Good Food in tablet form and, said Billingsley, those titles have racked up 70,000 downloads. Her tips were;

1) Choose a technology which makes sense. “Several off-the-shelf publishing solutions bolt onto InDesign,” she said. That means you can use existing staff’s existing skills and minimise cost.

2) Experiment and innovate. “Analyse your feedback and use that to try things out, to experiment,” she said. It was another recurring theme of the day – Billingsley was not the first speaker to urge publishers to use the audience data they so often fail to gather or analyse properly.

3) Utilise your existing assets. “If you have brand, audience and talent you have an advantage,” she said.

“Analyse, test, improve – that’s the cycle we work to,” she concluded.

Future’s Mark Wood took the theme further, talking about how his company is using all available platforms “to engage with our readers who are passionate about the areas we cover”. This can involve breaking down traditional ways of thinking, and Wood used an anecdote to illustrate the point.

On the way to the event he’d popped into the Apple store. He spoke to a sales assistant about what he did, and the sales assistant said he was a big fan of Guitarist magazine. Wood asked if he would buy it on iPad. The assistant said no, he liked the physical magazine. “But,” he told Wood, “stop putting those CDs on the cover – I want that online.”

Wood said: “Digital means we can see what our consumers want so we can sell them things without wasting their time. And being able to target audiences means we can get into new geographical areas more easily.” In short, he said, “With digital, the economics are different to print; but the content and skills are the same.”

Nikolay Malyarov from Newspaper Direct agreed that “if publishers focus on content that will bring readers”, but also expressed reservations about relying on one device. Apple’s new terms hung over the discussion. Malyarov reckons the coming proliferation of mobile devices means Apple will be challenged commercially and the rigidity of its App terms will soften. But asked if he saw Apple as a constricting influence, Wood simply said “If they want 30 per cent, we don’t mind”.

Future has the scale to publish on all platforms, it knows it needs to be on them, so Apple’s conditions are an acceptable cost.

Could a new project rise out of the Newspaper Education Trust’s ashes?

As reported on Journalism.co.uk, we said farewell to the Newspaper Education Trust last night. A small gathering at Westferry Printers on London’s Isle of Dogs closed the door on a project that had run for 15 years and given over 30,000 schoolchildren a taste of the newsroom. I have written before about the project’s closure shortly after I heard about it in June, and said then that the failure to provide the funds to keep this project going was an indictment of the trade. Last night’s event reinforced that view.

The enthusiasm with which the kids embraced their ‘day in the newsroom’ and the effect it had on their confidence can’t be overestimated. When I described the project as ‘inspirational’ I was conscious that overuse has devalued the word’s currency, but it is appropriate in this case. Reading the testimonials from the kids backed this up, and hearing tales of proud parents mounting their child’s front page in gold frames which took pride of place at home provided further insight into what this meant.

I only met the project’s dedicated chief executive Anna Pangbourne earlier this year, when she approached me after a debate at Publishing Expo and explained what the NET did. That it has been going for 15 years and provided so much for so many is thanks to the work and backing of the project’s staff, but also the backers and the trustees. So I don’t want to be too critical, especially as someone who came to the NET late. But looking at those backers I wondered how it was that, even in these recessionary times, these organisations could not find the relatively small amounts required to keep the project going. Especially when the NUJ, with access to considerably more meagre resources, did pledge some money as I helped Anna in a last push for finance.

It all came to an end very fast. When I spoke to Anna in March she mentioned a potential funding problem. Three months later the NET was wound up. I should emphasise I don’t want to come across as critical of anyone who has helped the project throughout its 15 years – without their efforts and support it wouldn’t have existed in the first place. And yet…

Here we had a resource with cutting edge equipment – the NET used Smart boards long before many media groups – which demonstrated both the power of the media and how it could empower people. It sparked schoolchildren’s imagination by involving them in the process of investigating, questioning and creating, and boosted their confidence by encouraging them to follow up their judgments. This is the generation who, we are led to believe, do not recognise the difference between journalism and simply communicating, whose blogging and Facebooking and video gaming and digital dexterity means all existing media will be swept away and replaced by a vast communal conversation. And yet here they were, valuing the process of checking, standing up stories, working out how to present information to target readers – creating the very media too many in the trade display such a depressing lack of confidence in.

At the closing event, the ‘move to a digital age’ was cited as one reason why the decision to wind up the NET on a high was taken. And yet the NET had not only embraced digital production technology for print, it had also began to offer basic TV bulletin courses in its media studio. Plans for expanding into podcasting and greater use of converged media were also being made. That all sounds very much like moving to a digital age to me.

One of the NET’s many achievements has been to pass on the legacy of its work, and the Tower Hamlets Summer University will be taking on some of the kit and course framework to offer its students. I’m talking to the Summer Uni about the possibility of linking up with London’s journalism colleges, and with the Summer University model now being taken up across London and beyond there is a chance that what the NET started can be taken on and built on a much wider scale.

Why is all this important? There’s an obvious answer, and a not so obvious one. If any trade wants to attract and nurture the best, it needs to inspire and illuminate future generations. But this is not just about the trade getting a new workforce. Much is said about the information age, but many educators and politicians are still thinking in boxes rather than realising that communications skills are key to so much of modern life. It’s not just potential journalists who need to know how to handle media technology and process information – the ability to communicate well is more vital than ever before.

If anyone is interested in developing any of this, I’d be happy to hear from you.

This post originally appeared on MartinCloake.wordpress.com. Martin Cloake is a writer, production journalist and media consultant. His website can be found at this link.