In an endlessly shifting landscape, it's all too easy to become overwhelmed by the pace of change. There seem to be more options than ever for publishers to deploy their hard-won cash and talent. But the opportunities for publishers must start and end with their consumers.
How can you can create or adapt a brand to meet an emerging need? How will it fit into their busy day? How will it inspire, entertain or inform them? Answer this before you think about the platform or business model. These must inevitably and obviously be decided but never lose sight of your customer as you make these choices.
The print versus digital debate should no longer exist for publishers. There are numerous opportunities to reach consumers, and the basis should only be part of the discussion. All of us accept that the economics of print publishing have changed but there is still room for innovation. What has changed is the reduced time you will have to profitability, so make sure your cost base and product agility match this.
Perhaps more important is the need for publishers to continue to diversify their revenues. Look at your business. Have you got at least four or more revenue streams and are they in balance? If not, how can you launch or acquire to increase the flow of those streams or develop a new one?
The brands we spend so much time crafting and creating will have built a strong level of trust with their consumers. The future of consumer publishing depends on being able to harness that trust, combine it with the data we have painstakingly collected, and use it to find revenue. This can be subscription fees, partnership revenues, display advertising, ecommerce, services and a host of other options.
The threats are perhaps easier to spot; they exist pretty much everywhere you look. Pressure on display advertising, in both print and digital. A retail newsstand channel - once the ultimate distribution tool for publishers - that is contracting and consolidating. The appetite for more content but ever decreasing desire from consumers to pay for it. A relentless war to recruit and retain the best content, technical and specialist talent. This last one is perhaps the most insidious for publishers, as years of downward pressure on cost has reduced our appetite for investment in our talent; this is a vicious circle we should avoid at all costs.
As you consider your plans for 2017, remember that it is not just consumer publishing that is being disrupted. The continuing march towards a mobile world, the rise of AI and augmented reality and surges in medical technology mean that almost no industry will be immune. Whatever the future may bring - driverless cars or 3D printing - there will always be opportunities for innovative publishers to connect with people to inform, inspire and entertain them.
If you need a guide, you could do a lot worse than follow the words of this verse from my mentor, the late, great Felix Dennis:
The first step? Just do it
And bluff your way thru’ it.
Remember to duck!
and good luck!