|Specialist consumer and B2B publishers are in a stronger position than general news and lifestyle media to embrace and exploit the opportunities of digital. Knowing your specialist audience well, providing exactly the content and services they want, and being flexible in using a range of media, is key to making a successful digital transition.
This is the argument Colin Morrison will put forward in his opening keynote at the Specialist Media Conference on 24 April at the British Library in London, a day dedicated to enabling niche publishers to exploit digital opportunities. With experience running specialist media portfolios at Emap, Future, Axel Springer, ACP and now a non-exec at Centaur and Travel Weekly, Colin has a wide variety of examples of innovation to share.
Digital disruption is challenging all media businesses
Everybody involved in the management of traditional media companies knows these are especially challenging times. The disruption is principally due to:
• The way that digital media has changed the appetite, attitudes and values of readers and advertisers - and the competition for their time and money
• The financial and practical difficulty of managing the migration from traditional media like magazines, newspapers and broadcasting
• The blurring of the divide between retail and media companies, which increases the competition for publishers
These challenges come into focus when even the most far-sighted publishers wrestle with the task of creating new business models and recruiting people with new skills.
So, there's pressure on costs at the same time as there is remorseless competitive pressure on the prices readers and advertisers are prepared to pay. The result, of course, is often reduced profits at the very time when publishers need all the cash they can generate to future-proof their businesses.
That is why traditional companies in all areas of traditional media are hurting. And there is no denying that a major technological revolution affecting the production and consumption of all media will kill some companies.
But specialist media businesses have some key advantages
But I believe the outlook for specialist media companies is much brighter for several reasons:
• Many specialist magazine publishers are largely dependant on copy sales. As a result, readers have become accustomed to paying viable prices. Contrast this with many mass market newspaper and magazine publishers where low cover prices have effectively been subsidised by advertisers. With reduced advertising, publishers are now forced to try to get readers to pay higher prices when they are, in fact, inclined to pay less.
• Specialist media companies are what it says on the tin. They provide specialist information, entertainment and education for focused audiences. So, although the competition from all things digital is increasing, the savvy specialist operator can still be successful by meeting the specific requirements of their audience.
• Specialist media operators can really know their audiences and, thus, can more safely manage the migration from hard copy to digital. It can still be painful, expensive and competitive but you can track your readers' requirements and attitudes to ensure the greatest possibility of success.
• Digitalisation will increasingly mean the blurring of media types, which creates the opportunity for enhanced, video-rich editorial content and advertising.
• The move towards digitalisation marks the transition from being a product producer (eg of magazines) to becoming a provider of digital services. Even that is more familiar territory for specialist publishers many of whom have long provided a range of services for their audiences. Now, there's more scope to grow profitability, for example through ecommerce.
Ever since I started writing my blog (www.flashesandflames.com), essentially about the challenges of traditional media in the digital age, I have become convinced there are many more opportunities than threats for specialist providers.
Specialist media entrepreneurs are embracing digital
And, for all the undoubted difficulties faced by most media companies, there are plenty of real successes. Look at UK-based publisher Future whose migration from a magazine-heritage has given it leadership in tablet editions. Or how Leo Laporte, in California (www.twittv.com) is pioneering online TV in the IT sector. Or how a husband and wife team in New York have developed a wonderfully integrated digital-magazines-tv-events-ecommerce business (www.theknot.com) based around weddings. Or how former publisher and cycling advertising agency owner Simon Wear has developed a YouTube 'TV' channel (www.globalcyclingnetwork.com).
They and hundreds of other specialist media businesses illustrate the opportunities in digital services. It's all about:
• Using digital technology to understand your audience and develop your knowledge of their behaviour, attitudes and interests
• Developing and acquire the necessary skills, especially in technology and audience 'insights'
• Building the loyalty of readers and users through products, services and 'membership' benefits
• Searching out partnerships to enhance your services to readers/ users, especially in retail
All of that is easier said than done, of course. But, even now, the best operators are showing their appetite for the wealth of opportunities in today's media markets - if you look forward and not back. It's time to rethink the future and not to yearn for the past.