My predictions for 2018

Jim Foster’s publishing world…

By Jim Foster

My predictions for 2018

I’ve sat on a number of panels at media-related events over the last decade or so, answering questions and debating the future of media, tech and everything you can imagine to do with digital.

I’ve even chaired the odd panel in the process, interviewing luminaries from businesses as diverse as the Financial Times, eBay, Samsung, PayPal and Google. Heck, PayPal even flew me to California once to talk micropayments strategy at their annual conference in San Francisco! A trip to eBay HQ to talk eCommerce strategy was also part of that trip… sometimes, when I reminisce, I think my career has gone downhill rapidly since!

Whatever happens at these events, wherever they are, you can always rely on someone in the audience to pipe up with one, predictable question: “Can you tell me what’s going to happen next?”

Inevitably, predicting the future is a largely futile experience. But it is fun. Some people even make a living doing it. So, with that in mind, in my final column of 2017, I’m going to make some media and tech-related predictions for 2018 for you to enjoy.

1. Tablets – back in play

Talking of futile predictions, I said on a media-event panel some eighteen months ago, that I thought the days of the tablet were limited. Not in the sense that people would stop using them completely, but that they’d most likely be squeezed between smartphones and laptops and remain luxury items as opposed to must-haves that would deliver growth.

Apple’s latest sales figures, where iPad sales were up for the second quarter in a row – selling at twice the rate of iMacs – tell a different story. The Pro, in particular, has been a resounding success and it seems people are now using them as laptop replacements. In our analytics, we’re now seeing almost a quarter of tablet use on our top-end apps coming from Pro users.

All of this is great news for digital edition sales and app software suppliers. The more people that move from laptops to tablets, the better. iPad users tend to be affluent and digitally-savvy people who can navigate their way around the App Store and are prepared to spend money, especially on hobbies and content that match their interests.

So, I reckon 2018 will see further iPad investment from Apple and continued tablet growth for us, which will be reflected in growing digital edition sales on our top, specialist titles. All positive, all good!

2. Phones – continued growth

This ‘prediction’ is a no-brainer. Our apps and websites will see ever-increasing traffic from phone users and as such, strategy, eCommerce and UX will become even more geared towards that than they currently are.

Over 50 per cent of all Closer app users now do so on their iPhones, the first title in our portfolio where this has happened. Other titles won’t be far behind, especially as iPhone X-standard technology becomes more affordable.

Digital magazine strategy for publishers will be simple – have mobile optimised content on the phone, complemented by a more immersive, interactive, animated experience on the tablet. And on websites, payment funnels and phone UX will continue to be given the highest of priorities.

3. More automation

At the same time all this is happening, the cost to publishers of creating and publishing really good-quality digital apps and websites is going down. Lowering overheads, while improving product, is a very good equation for anyone who runs a business.

As part of this, in 2018, fully-automated (in terms of production) phone-optimised apps will become more widespread, slowly heralding the drawn-out but inevitable death of the PDF replica.

We’ll also see users able to complete puzzles in our native magazine apps, via software improvements that, again, are automated, meaning they’re cost-effective, with no complex HTML files and time-consuming uploads.

Advances in structured content workflows will be made and become the norm, with content being pushed automatically into mobile-optimised, device-responsive templates from a central CMS; allowing editorial and art teams the freedom to get on with content creation as opposed to spending time designing complex apps, copying and pasting from InDesign, and so on.

This will probably require revolutionary changes in the ways editorial teams work, much in the same way as desk-top publishing revolutionised print back in the day. It will mean a fundamental move away from the traditional print-first approach, but once implemented, the result will be less effort to publish content across all platforms – from print, to online, to apps.

4. Renewed focus on owned platforms

Three platforms will continue to dominate in 2018 when it comes to digital edition magazine sales – Readly, iOS and, in the case of Bauer, our own platform, Great Magazines. Android will, alas, remain utterly useless.

The biggest in terms of volume will be Readly. The Swedish app giants, assuming they don’t have funding difficulties, will keep growing sales on a global basis and account for the majority of digital editions downloaded in the UK.

While this is great for bulk ABC figures, the consumer paying £7.99 a month to access almost the complete UK newsstand (a price over which the publisher has no control) does drive down the average revenue received per issue downloaded. Perhaps in 2018, publishers will need to decide how they want to move forward with the all-you-can eat model. There is great potential there, and I have to emphasise that I do love Readly, but there are possible difficulties to overcome, also.

The iOS App Store will remain in second slot for volume, but top slot for revenues, with further growth possible, but harder to achieve. Driving new app installs and subs will require intelligent marketing and app store optimisation, the latter necessary to fuel organic growth. Launching apps and leaving them to fester will not achieve anything.

Finally, the third-biggest platform – for Bauer, at least, in terms of magazine sales – will be Great Magazines, our company-owned platform.

If magazines are to survive, in whatever format, strategy has to be centred around developing and growing our owned platforms. Perhaps 2018 will see us move further away from a reliance on distribution outlets we have little or no control over. Maybe as an industry, we’ll start investing even more on developing a direct relationship with our customers, nurturing and managing datasets that allow for intuitive marketing practices to be executed successfully. Let’s call it a B2B business model for consumer magazines – increasing margin, placing the main emphasis on data, reducing cost, reducing wastage.

Of course, we will still distribute print via WHSmith, Tesco and other retailers. And we should still promote and publish content on Apple News and Facebook. But, we cannot rely on these outlets, as Apple’s recent changes to their App Store categories – and Facebook’s recent changes to their content distribution strategy – demonstrate.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for where publishing could be headed in 2018. And I haven’t even mentioned the growth we’re likely to see in non-traditional revenue streams online. But that’s a subject I can talk about another time.

For now, though, happy Christmas! I look forward to being in demand at conferences around the UK next year. Perhaps I should get an agent… (well, a PA would be a start!)