A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

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From Patrick Smith’s Media Briefing e-mail a couple of weeks ago (it was two days after my daughter was born, so I was a bit too busy to read it back then 😉 ) :

In this context, should I stop saying “publisher” to refer to companies like RBI and UBM, when so much of what they do is not in journalism but information dental equipment manufacturers or aviation experts of the best techniques and stuff to buy?

It’s worth noting that RBI was originally RBP – Reed Business Publishing. It’s around five years – maybe more – since it made the change, and it was a pretty clear indication of its direction back then. Now? It really doesn’t look like a publisher. Only parts of UBM do. 

They’re not publishers. They’re B2B information companies. 

Morning coffee and The Guardian on iPad

I feel rather bad for my colleagues in the national newspaper business this morning. As they trek into their plush central London office, sipping their lattes1, they find the world predicting their doom and destruction.

Frédéric Filloux treads a familiar path, contrasting the transitional newspaper approach to selling their stories online (“content marketing”, if you insist on jargon) with that of the tech-based news publisher and aggregators: 

The essence of what we’re seeing here is a transfer of value. Original stories are getting very little traffic due to the poor marketing tactics of old-fashion publishers. But once they are swallowed by the HuffPo’s clever traffic-generation machine, the same journalistic item will make tens or hundred  times better traffic-wise. Who is right?  Who can look to the better future in the digital world ? Is it the virtuous author carving language-smart headlines or the aggregator generating eye-gobbling phrases thanks to high tech tools?  Your guess.  

Snappy end to a piece, sure enough. But also, a bit of a false dichotomy, n’est pas?. In theory, the traditional news publishers could learn from the attention tactics of the aggregators a great deal more easily than the aggregators could staff up a full-blown journalism operation. When it comes to the survival of top-flight reporting, it might be time to start holding your nose, and using some more aggressive attention techniques…

That’s not what the big publishers are doing, though, is it? They’re busy chasing new dreams of a sustainable future. They’re just, well, not very committed to them… Here’s Mr Rick Waghorn, talking about The Guardian‘s repeated switches from local, to the US, to Open Journalism as its saviour business model:

Pivoting your product into new market-places every 12 months is, indeed, classic start-up behaviour – but only of those start-ups that, basically, don’t know what they’re doing. Or who or what they are trying to be.

My former employer went through this sort of process, switching from funnel marketing, to lead generation to data services as its saviour business model over the course of six years. That’s a new business model every two years for those keeping track…

I have, for fairly obvious reasons, been reading a lot of books on the subject of baby care in recent months. One of the most oft quoted pieces of advice is that often parents fail to soothe crying babies, because they don’t keep going with the soothing activity long enough. Too many publishing businesses feel like desperate parents, trying the next new thing to soothe the wails of their failing business model, and then chucking it away when the results aren’t immediate and overwhelming. 

But then (let’s push this metaphor hard) they had a placid little baby for decades, who suddenly developed bad colic one evening. They had no experience and no practice in this situation. It must be hard to switch from managing incremental improvements on a long-established business model to an environment of disruption, change and innovation, especially when you look down your nose of the tactics of those who are succeeding…

1 Why is it so easy to use lattes as opposed to any other form of coffee when you want to lightly mock a group of people? What is it about this weak, milky form of caffeine delivery vehicle that makes it inherently humorous?

I saw some search traffic hitting my blog this morning for “TotalJobs divestment”. Now I know why:

Reed Business Information’s sell-offs really aren’t over yet.
Now it is selling the UK’s number-two job classifieds site, TotalJobs, to German publisher Axel Springer’s equivalent StepStone for a hefty £110 million ($175 million) (announcement).

I’ve barely been out of RBI three months, and it’s already looking like a very different company…

Matthew Ingram has written a typically thoughtful and insightful piece about the bind newspaper publishers find themselves in, all inspired by this graph from LinkedIn:

LinkedIn - Industry Growth

He suggests that the reason newspaper publishers languish at the bottom while online publishing is doing pretty well is a classic expression of the innovator’s dilemma:

I think Intel chairman Andy Grove actually popularized the term “valley of death” in that kind of context, but Smalera is still on target with his main point, which is that it is almost impossible for companies who have a dominant business of one kind — in one particular market, serving one particular kind of customer — to successfully cannibalize their own business by investing heavily in a new one. Even if they agree that change is necessary, the impetus will always be to continue spending most of the company’s time on managing the existing business, especially if it continues to produce a majority of a firm’s revenues (as print still does for most newspapers).

Those of us who have spent any length of time in traditional media businesses – B2B publishing rather than national newspapers in my case – will have seen that in play. However, I think there’s a false assumption at work here. It’s not wise to assume that the only path traditional publishers will take is into online publishing. To quote my former employer, in a story about the proposed sale of Variety:

With RBI’s increasing focus on data services, and the sale of our other US print magazines, it now makes sense for us to sell the business.

Emphasis mine. Most online publishing operations trade with much lower structural overheads than traditional publishers, and it’s very, very hard to take a high overhead business and turn it into a low overhead one. That’s why business publishers like RBI are transitioning to data businesses – high revenue, high overhead – or events, both of which can support the kind of corporate structures they’re used to. The alternative is wholesale sackings of IT, marketing, HR and the like, and a lower turnover business, which will cause horror and revolt from shareholders and investors. Things will have to get even worse than they are now before businesses will contemplate this.

My current prediction for the B2B market in particular: many of the old, established names will be essentially out of the publishing game and into pastures new within five years, with incoming outfits like Briefing Media picking up key brands, and running them at significantly lower overheads than the big boys could.

Yesterday, I returned from my best holiday in years, refreshed, revitalised and ready for the challenges ahead. Our blog platform needed revamping, there was a ton of mobile strategy work to be done, we needed to brainstorm easy win funnel content for one of our magazines, we needed to press on with our new comments system…

…and the company politely informed me that I wouldn’t be doing any of this, and, indeed, my employment would most likely be coming to an end. The normal discussions are underway as to possible alternative roles, but the chances are that sometime soon I’ll be looking for new employment. I won’t deny that I’m sad about this – the last five years have been the happiest of my working life. But times change, things move on, and in a sense, I predicted my own redundancy. I’ve long argued that one of the things that publishing businesses need to do to stay competitive in the new era was reduce the burden of central costs. Somehow, I never quite saw myself as one of those burdens, until I was reduced… 😉

I hope that new opportunities will open up for me. I’m one of a limited pool of people with half a decade’s experience in transforming content businesses, through a mix of technology, training, mentoring and outright evangelism, and I’m confident there’s someone out there who will find those skills useful.

So, if you need someone with any of these skills:

  • 10 years’ experience of blogging
  • 5 years’ experience of training journalists and industry figures in all forms of social media and digital journalism
  • Extensive work on content strategies, especially the role of journalism and social media in funnel marketing
  • General publishing strategy
  • Online profile building
  • Particularly skilled in liveblogging
  • Recent deep work on mobile strategies and propositions
  • Editorial technology research, acquisition and deployment

…feel free to drop me a line on [email protected]

I’m refreshed, revitalised and ready to bring my skills to bear on new projects…

Photo 28-07-2011 01 39 18 PM

The good folks at Estates Gazette have launched their first iPad app. The Special Edition focuses around the property issues (and property people) involved in sporting events like the Olympic Games, coming to a London near you next year.

There’s a real mix of images, text and video, and the whole shebang is free to you on the App Store, thanks to sponsorship from property firm CBRE.

A few more screen shots:

Photo 28-07-2011 01 37 18 PM

Photo 28-07-2011 01 39 10 PM