All publishers keep tabs on their own market, monitoring closely what their competitors, readers and advertisers are up to. This is entirely to be expected, but, writes Carolyn Morgan, it’s a good idea to investigate what strategies publishers in completely unrelated markets are adopting.
Many years ago, I worked for Emap, in its heyday, when it published an eclectic range of titles in arcane sectors such as birdwatching, angling, photography, architecture, healthcare and refrigeration, and had an enviable reputation for innovative approaches to what was then a print-driven business. When the publishers of all these businesses came together for conferences and awards, we all heard new stories about markets we knew very little about. But there were frequently nuggets of innovation that could be applied to other markets. It really paid to be a magpie.
Fast forward to 2012 and the task for the independent publisher is monumental: how to decide where to focus attention, resource and investment? Should it be paid online content, print subs, mobile apps, live events, data, online networking, e-commerce or training? A small media business in a niche market needs to find some inspiration, and you don’t want to just copy what your competitors are doing.
The answer is to look much further afield, and spend time investigating and getting to know the dynamics of markets that, at first sight, are not at all similar to your own. Niche publishing markets however share many characteristics: whether in consumer or b2b sectors. They are likely to have an expert and vocal group of readers, who often know as much about the subject as the editorial team. They have a defined set of advertisers, who are totally focused on getting closer to a specific audience. And they have a reputation for authoritative, independent content.
So if you are bereft of ideas, take some time to look at seemingly disparate markets and observe how they are tackling the challenges of multi-media publishing and diverse revenue sources. Read quality publications like InPublishing, or take out subscriptions to arcane titles, or attend live events in different sectors and observe how they work. Review industry research projects, such as Specialist Media Insights or Publishing Futures. Read the stories of awards shortlists such as Media Pioneers or the Digital Mag Awards.
The best way to get a real insight into how other publishers are solving the problems you are facing is to get to know your opposite numbers and build a personal relationship. Live events and conferences run by groups like SIPA are ideal to build this trust. Or you can develop your online networking skills: try the Specialist Media Network, Media Briefing, SIPA Europe and other media networking groups on LinkedIn. The better you get to know someone, and the more information you share yourself, the more you will learn in return.
For example, Mark Alker of Singletrack listened to Ben Greenish talking about how the Spectator used Kindle, and went on to experiment with Kindle for their archive of biking columns. Marcus Wilkinson of IDG drew inspiration from ESPN for a creative ad solution for CFO World. And Fish and Fly picked up ideas for digital publishing from K9 magazine.
Once you are comfortable swapping ideas with related markets, you are ready for the next challenge: if you are a consumer publisher, what can you learn from business to business media – and vice versa? They have more in common than you might realise. B2B are ahead of the game in running live events and developing paid online subs, while consumer publishers are taking the lead in mobile and tablet editions.