From the Editor: Are We in This for the Long Haul or What?
Strategy. Anyone remember that word? Sometimes it seems like many in the industry have forgotten it, if they ever knew it in the first place. The priority instead is put on the fad du jour.
In the mid-'90s, it was the Web—and most publishers just threw their print content up there for free. Who cared if their advertisers were paying a pretty penny to support the content in print form and/or your readers were paying to read the content in print? Others felt there was no place for them online, or didn't see a revenue model, so they invested nothing and stayed away.
A few years ago, video became the new fad, and print editors were suddenly video producers, editors and on-screen talent. Some publishers sold video coverage to advertisers, thinking this was a whole new "ball game," so the old church-and-state thing didn't apply. Few companies, however, bothered to consider whether video made sense from a growth perspective. Even fewer plotted strategies for making it successful—or for not negatively impacting other revenue-generating products by pulling resources away from them.
One of today's fads seems to be mobile. Sure, billions of people worldwide own mobile devices, and many of those use their devices to access information. Sure, it makes sense that you have content available for them to find. But going mobile doesn't make a mobile strategy.
Jay Wilson, vice president and director of the Customer Dialogue Group at direct marketing agency powerhouse Wunderman, cites (in this month's mobile feature) a recent Audit Bureau of Circulations study showing that publishers believe the long-term monetization opportunities of mobile will be found in banner ads, sponsorships, search and other traditional forms of advertising. This, suggests Wilson, may be a bit short-sighted. Mobile is not simply a new version of print or Web. Business models behind it may not be the same.
In this issue's Guest Column, Gregg Hano (group publisher of Bonnier's Technology Group) writes about the advent of upstart online content providers in spaces that should have been filled by publishers: "Inevitably, smart young entrepreneurs, less beholden to inherited business models, moved in and filled the breach."
It's a critical time in publishing, and one that is seeing many publishers grasping not only at fads, but at any immediate revenue opportunity. Quality seems to have fallen by the wayside. As Justin Smith says in the cover story, "The number of organizations that are paying people to think deeply on an issue, and then report it and write it … is dwindling by the second. As the competition dwindles, we are certainly doubling down on this."
When will publishers realize that lack of focus on editorial quality and integrity in publishing is like a lack of focus on food in a restaurant?
As columnist Bob Sacks writes in his column, "The answer to the publishing industry's woes is to provide something worth paying for. … Stop firing the editors and writers, and start paying for the production of excellence."
Today is the day to decide if we are in this business for the long haul. If we are, I think it's time we act like it.
Why do you think some companies are continuously successful? Over the years, I have cited Consumer Reports as the rock god of "doing things right." Four years ago, we invited John Sateja—Consumers Union's executive vice president and a member of Publishing Executive's advisory board—to deliver the keynote address at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo. A few b-to-b publishers said to me, "They're not relevant to our business. They don't run advertisements."
Not relevant? Consumer Reports (CR) has developed a successful model for delivering content to an engaged (and enormous) audience that is willing to pay for that content. Is that not what we all do, or strive to do? Where is the ad-supported model now? And what are publishers looking at now? Paid content models.
In the next issue of Publishing Executive, you'll find out more of the reasons I put CR up on a pedestal in an article devoted to new revenue-generating ideas. The bottom line: strategy. CR has a mission and a plan. Is it jumping on mobile opportunities? Sure. But in a way that makes long-term sense for its audience.
But I digress from fads. Or do I? As you consider all the new technology emerging, consider your plans for the future—that is, if you still plan to be around.