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Opportunities & Threats: Customer Publishing

Nicola Murphy's article in the Publishing Partners Guide 2016

Nicola Murphy

Posted on: 04 February 2016

We are all publishers now with the onslaught of social media channels taking over our lives. And therein lies the rub for customer publishing and the brands we craft content for: how to get eyeball time with consumers who have literally hundreds of content engagement opportunities thrust at them every day.

Whether we publish under the header of customer, contract, newsstand, digital or blogger, the biggest threat to our industry is the sheer plethora of content available to read and watch. The threat being not only in the quantity, but also in the quality – which, on the whole, is dire.

Now, I'm not saying that professional content providers – publishing agencies, newsstand publishers, journalists, designers, videographers – should pack up and go home. Rather that brands should regulate the content they publish and ask not what, to whom and how often, but why and therefore what? Not more content, but content that does more. Inspires more, educates more, engages more – and so sells more.

In traditional publishing media, the cream is rising to the top. There are fewer and smaller pagination titles both in print and online – but the quality of those surviving is excellent. Whether paid-for or free, consumers will only spend their money and their time reading what's worth their attention. Quality will out.

Another threat is one of homogeneity of content. Not just too much, too often, but too bland. One issue is clients taking or generating content in-house – some with lacklustre results (Kuoni), although there are notable exceptions (Harrods); and also newsstand publishers encroaching on the agency side. For example, the move of the Asda magazine from Publicis Blueprint to Hearst. Eight months – and just two editions – later and the magazine looks pretty much the same in the Christmas issue as it always has. It recently relaunched as Good Living so watch this space…

Threats are also opportunities. Customer publishers are seeing a rise in demand for expertly crafted content. Content that sells from an engagement perspective – and sometimes with a cover price. There’s been a rise in brands successfully launching their customer titles as paid-for magazines in their stores (Healthy Magazine in Holland & Barrett, Healthy For Men in GNC and PRO Hair & Beauty in Sally Salon Services stores), and sometimes taking the leap onto the newsstand (Healthy Magazine sells an average of 20k copies on the newsstand).

So the future remains bright if we customer publishers counsel our clients that more is not necessarily more where content is concerned. Unless, of course, it's more and better. More channels – video, mobile, social – not more content, unless it passes the WIFM test for the consumer.

“Customer publishers are seeing a rise in demand for expertly crafted content.”

About Nicola Murphy
(Details last updated: 1 February 2018)

Nicki Murphy is the CEO of The River Group, a company she founded 24 years ago. Nicki began her marketing career at Procter & Gamble before coming into the publishing industry in 1991. Nicki is a trustee of Hong Kong children’s charity, Good Rock, and a trustee and director of The Katie Piper Foundation.

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