I spent an enjoyable two days at the Publishing Expo at Earls Court on 28-29 February and recommend it to anybody with an interest. It is free to register and there are about 50 free seminars from senior figures in the industry, covering a broad range of topics from content to audience data, via production and apps.
Last year’s show left me with the impression that publishers were starting to wake up to the threat to their livelihoods from the digital world. This year they are all taking action, though some are simply repurposing their print content as pdfs, which is not enough. The future remains uncertain for many of them, including those with bolder strategies who are gambling the farm on untried business models. The biggest queue I saw was for a keynote session titled “Publishing Futures”, giving a snapshot of the industry: ‘Where are we going and what are we doing about it?’ It worries me that they still ask these questions, when I hoped they had planned a strategy by now and taken control of their own destinies.
My interest this year was focussed on content reuse, metadata, workflows and automation. There is clearly huge potential for publishers to exploit content they already own and to generate new revenue streams.
I was shocked to hear the old chestnut, ‘Content is King’ contradicted for the first time, by Dominic Jacquesson, who asserted, controversially, that content value is in long term decline, being static and one-way, solving no problems. In contrast, workflows disintermediate, disrupting traditional publishing models and are capable of solving users’ problems.
Dominic outlined some of the market sectors where publishers have lost out to digital startups. It is sobering to learn that 90% of all UK property sales are now advertised at Rightmove and that Autotrader earns £174 million digital revenue, with an 87% page-view share of the used car market. Most of this is business that newspaper publishers let slip through their fingers.
Dominic stressed that publishers need to solve customers’ problems, copy ideas wherever they can, cannibalise their existing business model and invest profits from the traditional model to develop a new one. Otherwise capital, audience, advertisers and talent will all migrate to start-ups.
Jeska Harrington Gould was next up, giving a blow-by-blow account of how her established business, Research, with customers in the academic sector, reacted to a similar threat. Rather than lose their business to a well-funded new start-up, they researched their market to find what their customers wanted and proposed a new platform that would deliver it.
Before they embarked on the 18-month, £500k software-development project, they offered their customers incentives to commit to the new service for its first three years, which they did. This tied up customers’ budgets and effectively scuppered Research’s new competitor, which soon threw in the towel. One-nil to the publishers!
I will cover content strategy, workflows, new roles and more in my next post.