Opportunities & Threats: Consumer Media

What’s the outlook for the consumer media sector in 2021? DC Thomson Media’s Sally Hampton looks into the future.

By Sally Hampton

Opportunities & Threats: Consumer Media

In this column one year ago, Julian Thorne wrote: “It will take only one infrastructure earthquake to create merry hell with the increasingly fragile [consumer publishing] business model.”

Did Julian have a crystal ball or a hotline to a virus research laboratory? I don’t know but we certainly got our earthquake. The Covid-19 pandemic presented an existential threat – to our publications, our businesses and our people. Would this be the accelerant that amplified all the other threats we’ve been grappling with in recent years – reductions in reading, reduced share of advertising revenue, consumer flight to ‘free’ content?

In the early days of the first lockdown, it seemed so. There was pressure to cut supply as stores battled closure and panic buying. Advertising income dried up. Publishers had to react to those shocks while moving to a remote working model.

Sadly, for some publications, this was the storm they couldn’t weather. Readers lost favourite titles and talented people lost their jobs. Others, whose business models were severely compromised had to pause under furlough and consider the way forward.

However, elsewhere, Covid-19 delivered the proof that threats and opportunities can be two sides of the one coin.

Those publishers who reacted quickly with subscription marketing campaigns, and who held their nerve around retail supply, discovered that consumers are very highly motivated to obtain print products. Publications that deliver authoritative analysis or a total escape from the news cycle thrived.

Advertising income plummeted at first but, as lockdowns relaxed and re-tightened, publishers delivered innovative commercial solutions that helped companies talk to engaged consumers.

While the earthquake shook our industry to its foundations, it also exposed just how resilient and adaptable we can be. We now know that we can do our jobs from anywhere – opening the door to some very exciting recruitment possibilities. We have an insight into the value customers place on our products and services. And we’ve seen how quickly we can transform our operating models to meet the needs of our partners.

Which is handy because none of the underlying threats has retreated. We need to take the lessons learned from the pandemic and use them to face the ongoing challenges.

In light of the continued reduction of reading on any platform, we need to ask, “What is publishing without the written word?” and use our considerable expertise to deliver quality content in the format consumers want. As advertisers are presented with a multitude of alternative media, we must demonstrate the value of our engaged audiences. And we must ensure all of this delivers a profitable return on investment.

Knowing just how strong we can be should give us the confidence to face future threats with determination, grasp opportunities with enthusiasm – and go for growth.

We need to take the lessons learned from the pandemic and use them to face the ongoing challenges.

This article was first published in the Publishing Partners Guide, an annual directory distributed with InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.