From the Editor: Thriving in the New Media Universe
It is essentially the eve of the 2011 Publishing Business Conference as I "pen" this note. My mind is on the brilliant speakers I've talked with during planning, and the conference theme: "Thriving in Today's New Media Universe."
What does that really mean? First, it means things are different today. It's not business as usual for company presidents, CEOs, publishers, manufacturing, production, art, audience development (the "old" circulation) or editorial—for anyone.
I consider print to be the center of gravity around which our new universe revolves. However, for many, that center is undeniably shrinking. I recently spoke with the CEO of a b-to-b publisher that has been a longtime print innovator; I was shocked to learn that print constitutes just 35 percent of the company's business today.
Some publishers have foregone print altogether. The point here is that every business, every market, is different. No one solution exists for "thriving in the new media universe."
But, back to "business as unusual"—if you're pushing your print products as lone wolves to lead your business through the new media tundra, I'm afraid you'll soon be in trouble, if you're not, by some miracle, already. Even publishers whose print products are growing are not ignoring the opportunities to grow in new directions to serve their audiences.
The challenge is determining which path through the tundra makes sense for your business and your audience. If you're a mammoth company with lots of R&D dollars, maybe cutting-edge, high-tech apps are your new focus. You can afford to risk ROI in the quest for longer-term gains. If you have limited resources, however, your approach to the app market will be different. (Eric Shanfelt does a good job of explaining this for controlled-circulation, b-to-b publishers in his latest e-Media Strategist column.)
The other meaning that "thriving in the new media universe" has is a more personal one. How can we, as individuals, continue to thrive in our beloved publishing industry?
Twenty years ago, just a bit before I started in this business (I was very young, of course), life was simple. Print. Getting issues out. Selling print ads. Period. (Of course, in-person events were in the mix for some.) I can still smell the fresh-baked apple pie on the windowsill.
Some 15 years ago, the Web complicated things a bit, but savvy publishers launched Web-exclusive content, forums/discussion groups, etc., that tapped the Web's capabilities. It was the early form of social media, only unfortunately, many, if not most publishers missed it. They simply put their print content online, for free and requiring no registration, having a ripple effect on the industry that is still being felt today. More e-newsletters emerged, but largely as marketing vehicles to inform print subscribers about what was in the new issue.
Today, we have so many ways to reach our audiences: print, Web, mobile Web, apps, in-person and virtual events, video, external and internal social media outlets, e-newsletters, and so on. Think of the power all these options offer us for serving them. The Onion CEO Steve Hannah (keynote speaker at the Publishing Business Conference), knows this well: The Onion's goal, as he has said: "World domination, plain and simple."
But, as Peter Parker's (Spiderman, for you non-Spidey fans) aunt told him, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Which brings us back to "business as unusual." Today's publishing professionals must be multitaskers to the nth degree. There is no focusing on print alone. We all have the responsibility to adapt with the changes impacting our world.
Still, we are all in a period of flux. As BoSacks says in his column (page 50), "We are living through … technologic change that is happening faster than anyone can predict or understand." But, he adds, we don't need to understand, just accept.
So I see "thriving in the new media universe" as being flexible and adaptable, and letting go of the old ways of working. Fifteen years ago, when I was in a lower position and always the one staying late, I thought, "One day, I'll be the editor, and my staff will be the ones staying late. I'll be at home with my glass of wine, enjoying my fresh-baked apple pie."
Unfortunately, you can't put a time limit on change. It morphs and meanders, it's unpredictable, and demands constant attention and evolution. No one is exempt from getting their hands dirty as we mush on through the unknown and sometimes seemingly unforgiving tundra.
But we do it because we love the industry. And we want to thrive in the new media universe. And we will.