Perplexed, but not panicking......yet!..... That, writes Jim Bilton, seems to be the overall sense of what publishers feel about the future.
Last Summer, Wessenden Marketing, Wide Area and InPublishing magazine teamed up to produce a major survey of the UK publishing business, “PUBLISHING FUTURES 2009”, involving 187 publishing companies - newspapers and magazines as well as consumer and B2B operators, from the major international groups down to small independent publishers. Wessenden has recently updated some of the topline figures.
We asked a few key questions.....
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident do you currently feel about the overall financial success of your company over the coming year?”
The average of 6.6 conceals a wide range of scores from company to company and from market to market, but reflects a general mood of concern rather than panic. The market is tough rather than terminal and the publishing business model needs some major tweaking rather than starting with a completely blank sheet of paper. In fact, looking behind the dropping sales, the profit margins of a number of companies have actually improved as a result of major restructuring and cost reduction.
“How does your current level of confidence about the future compare to how you felt a year ago?”
57% of the sample are feeling more confident than they did last year with another 25% feeling that the situation is about the same. A significant minority (18%) feel that their position has worsened.
“When do you foresee a turning point in the markets in which your company trades, when things will begin to improve?”
Just over a quarter (27%) feel that the turn has already happened last year. The majority (52%) see 2010 as the turn year, with 10% in the middle of the turn in Q1, with most companies seeing Q2 and Q3 as the turn point. Yet a significant 22% (companies more likely to be in B2B sectors) foresee their turn being a more distant event.
Then we asked the big question. “What are the biggest opportunities facing your company over the next 12 months?” Here are the key themes.....
• Online & digital. The biggest and most obvious opportunity. This means publishers’ own websites, but also covers digital editions and other areas such as online TV & video, mobile and social media.
• Multi-platform activity. The future is not just about digital + print, but involves package of events, research and other media such as radio.
• Seeing off the competition. There is a real hope that closure and acquisition will slim down a publisher market which has far too much capacity.
• International expansion. A surprisingly large number of publishers, business & consumer, are looking to overseas growth both in terms of readers and advertisers.
• New audiences. For most publishers, this means niching into tighter subgroups of existing audiences.
• Subscriptions. With retail sales of consumer magazines remaining very soft, postal subscriptions continue to grow their share of copy sales. Yet the subscription model extends well beyond postal delivery of print product into a range of applications, both digital and print, where the end-user is tied into a longer-term, broader and more tailored relationship with the publisher.
But some reservations......
Do publishers now have the resources (budgets, headcount, in-house experience) to make the brave new multi-platform publishing world a reality? Have budgets been over-cut, particularly in the areas of marketing and promotions? For all the talk about customer insight, how well do publishers REALLY know their end consumers? For all the talk about database capability, what profitable tools are ACTUALLY in place? The industry is currently “talking a good ball game”, yet there is a sneaking suspicion that there is more hope than reality in some publishers’ plans.