Publishing Executive March/April 2010
Many in the industry are hoping that 2010 will be the year of the comeback—or perhaps more conservatively, the bounceback—for advertising-supported online media. While we are seeing advertising clients who went dark in 2009 return to the market, it is important to look at the current reality with sober eyes. Every recession has eventually led to recovery and growth, but each also has left behind its indelible mark in those things that have changed.
As publishers continue to try and keep pace with readers, one thing is clear: Digital publishing will not stop growing. But that doesn't mean you should abandon the print foundation on which this industry was built. "Digital transformation is a must, and it's not leaving one medium to go to another," insists Tom Cintorino, executive vice president of digital media for Northstar Travel Media. "It's really finding a balance of all mediums that meet the audience needs … and then generating revenues and profits. That's what being in business is about."
2009 Advertising Round-up
B-to-B magazine ad pages fell 28.6% in 2009 vs. 2008. Ad revenues declined 24% during the same period. Consumer magazines fared marginally better in 2009, with ad pages dropping by 25.6% and revenue falling 18.1%....
This month I want to shine the light on an issue that I think warrants discussion by our industry. For lack of a better term, I have been calling it PIP—that is, paranoia in publishing. Here is the core of the issue: We believe that publishing will survive and be quite lucrative for many of the industry's smartest folks, but we can't quite figure out whether we will be part of that group—or part of that survival. And that is the terrible sadness of it.
With a trying 2008 and 2009 behind us, most publishers who attended the 2010 Publishing Business Conference & Expo, March 8-10, seemed, at the very least, less worried about the future than they were last year and, in fact, most were quite optimistic. The conference theme, "Publishing at a Tipping Point," was the unifying force behind more than 60 educational sessions presented by 150 speakers from all walks of the publishing industry. The presentations and discussions focused on industry shifts and practical information to help publishers adapt and thrive.
I often agree with Bob Sacks, our longtime columnist, and a friend and mentor. (He is much older than me, you know.) But after reading his column in this issue, "Paranoia in Publishing" (page 42), I felt the need to address a few things.
"We've become a welfare information society," said Samir Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine." "Anybody who knows anything about welfare knows that once you put somebody on welfare, it becomes so hard to get them off welfare. For the last 10 years, we've done a lot in terms of giving away free content." ... For Scientific American, this wasn't as hard as it sounds. Bruce Brandfon, vice president and publisher, explained how the magazine was able to simply charge for some content while growing subscriptions.
It's been a tough year for printers, and Publishing Executive's annual "Top Magazine Printers" list (opposite page) is a stark indicator of how the recession has hurt the bottom line for companies regardless of size, region or market served. Only five of the 23 printers on this year's list report an increase in magazine printing revenue compared to last year (although that information was not available for six printers listed). Looking at total printing revenue from all sources (periodicals, catalogs, book manufacturing, newspapers, etc.), just three printers reported higher revenues this year compared to last (one was flat, and for three companies, no comparison information was available).
The idea of the ad portal—a service allowing advertisers and agencies to submit ads to publishers remotely through a system that automatically checks for errors and omissions—has been around for a few years, but has taken on new importance with the spread of browser-based portal options (and the need to automate as many workflow processes as possible to increase efficiency). A process that until recently required downloading often complex software can now be accessed anywhere, by anyone, utilizing easy-to-use tools. Without fanfare, the era of the ad portal has fully arrived.
The question of whether print-advertising revenue will return to pre-recession levels still looms over many publishers' heads (and many analysts predict that it will not). So publishers not only are striving to boost online revenue and develop creative partnerships with advertisers, but also to find other ways to help offset losses suffered during the past two years, and build new business models around their content and their audiences.