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What are other publishers up to?

James Evelegh attended the recent ESco Connect event to find out.

By James Evelegh

What are other publishers up to?
Speaking at ESco Connect 2023 (L-R): Elliot Wellsteed-Crook, Lindsey Pearson, Jayne Lewis-Orr and Catriona Bolger.

It’s all too easy, with the seemingly 24/7 pressure of modern publishing, to become inward looking, to become obsessed with your ever lengthening to-do list.

Yet, it’s a good idea to lift your head up occasionally to hear about the experiences and priorities of other publishers. This can be both enlightening and reassuring.

At last week’s ESco Connect event at FORA Spitalfields in London, put on for the subscription bureau’s clients and guests, the ‘Publishing Powerhouses’ panel session gave us some interesting insights into what other publishers are thinking and doing.

On the panel, which was moderated by ESco’ Alistair Wood, were Elliot Wellsteed-Crook (Wanderlust), Lindsey Pearson (Whitmar), Jayne Lewis-Orr (Professional Beauty) and Catriona Bolger (Immediate Media).

So, what did I learn? What are other publishers up to? Well, it would seem that they are:

  1. Doubling down on subs. Part due to pressures at the newsstand, part due to the attraction of building recurring revenue streams and a direct customer relationship, publishers are increasingly focused on growing their subscriptions.
  2. Trying to get more data. “We know our audience, but not as well as we should,” admitted one panellist. Publishers are looking to increase the zero- and first-party data they collect, “everything from email address to inside leg measurement”. This trend of moving users from ‘anonymous’ to ‘known’ helps to improve internal strategising, satisfy advertisers’ demands for more information about who exactly they are advertising to, and enables more targeted upper funnel subscriptions activity.
  3. Working smarter and faster. There seemed a general acceptance that the pace of change would quicken, whilst competitive pressures were unlikely to ease.
  4. Being more innovative. As we all heard many times over the past few years, “necessity is the mother of invention”. The pandemic accelerated the process of radical transformation for many publishers, and that focus on innovation is being maintained.
  5. Focusing on quality content. Content remains “at the heart of the brand wheel” said one. Its importance can’t be over-emphasised because at the end of the day… “we want people to pay for it”.
  6. Pursuing a membership model. As one of the earlier speakers at the event said, “you have a subscription; you are a member”. It’s a different type of relationship. Publishers are constantly looking for ways to add value to the reader relationship. A not-to-be-underestimated part of this was the need to keep reminding your members of the value they are getting.
  7. Trying to figure out how AI can benefit their businesses. All publishers, large and small, are thinking about AI. Some of the bigger publishers are going all in, organising immersion sessions and hackathon events, and starting to roll out applications. Smaller publishers know that AI has the potential to take on a lot of the heavy lifting, but due to lack of resource, are, at this stage, just dabbling.

You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.