Hijacked by Information Technology
There is a reason magazine publishers did not own their own printing presses. The investment was never worth it for even the largest publishing companies. Sure, newspapers owned presses—they had daily needs, often multiple editions, and they had local distribution and urgent turn-arounds.
For a magazine tying up capital was one thing, but staffing and ongoing operations? It made no sense. But this is all ancient history, right? Now we are shedding the need for paper and ink and the internet is free—look at all the money we’ll save!
A funny thing happened on the way to digital heaven. I have looked for research and found none, but anecdotal evidence suggests IT personnel budgets are devouring editorial personnel budgets. Our pundits tell us “it’s not the substrate” and we need to free ourselves from concentrating on how we deliver. Meanwhile, maybe the new substrate, or lack thereof, is taking over.
High profile layoffs in January at the New York Times and Financial Times sounded as if those receiving pink slips were all in editorial or business. It is possible some IT staffers were downsized, but I doubt it. The news of restructurings emphasized new technological initiatives. On a staffing basis, digital delivery is costing more than printing ever did.
Who are we publishers anyway? Promotion for an upcoming UK conference from The Media Briefings states, “In 2013, all publishing companies are technology companies.” Is that true? Obviously we must master information technology and all its permutations, from social media to mobile distribution. If we never needed to become printers, is becoming technology companies so much smarter? Why in the world would you not outsource as much technology as you can? Shouldn’t your core competency be audience building though compelling content? If you don’t accomplish that, all the technology in the world won’t help you.
What did you sign on for? Would you be just as content working at Oracle or IBM? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) For all this talk about the substrate not being the point, has IT become the point while no one was looking? We care about the quality of our paper, but it has never held an equivalent position with the quality of our writing.
Sure, technology is critical to our business. For what business is it not? Maybe we need to use technology more than most—but must we be technology? Yes, I get that the definition of what constitutes being a publisher is morphing, and that “everyone is a publisher.” Being the same as everyone has never been high on my bucket list.
Do we care about definitions? Well, for some reason I do. I propose that to be considered a real publisher you must carry a solid ratio of editors-to-IT staffers. 10:1? 5:1? If your edit-to-IT staffing is 3:1 or less and you might as well start looking for offices in San Jose.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.