How will the future of publishing look?

I was thinking more about the future of monetising media content, both through current online products and soon-to-be mobile devices. There’s been a lot of talk in the publishing industry recently about specialist and niche titles being forced to look for subscription revenue as they are finding it harder to compete in the retail market with larger consumer magazine titles.

These specialist magazines are forced off the newsstands by agents modeling themselves after FMCG retailers  that maximise return per square metre and charge for prime retail positions. Chasing subscriptions and subscription revenue seems the obvious route to take.

But consumers are chasing content from many sources, increasingly it is free, backed by advertising. They are developing deep and sophisticated relationships with digital devices that deliver information to their fingertips whenever they want it, B2B and consumer – mobile charges will be the major barrier to consumption. What benefit are consumers gaining from magazines, nowadays? This is the question magazine publishers should ask themselves. Portability? Quality of reading format? The nostalgic feel of paper?

I don’t believe it will be long before electronic paper – truly flexible, full colour, electronic paper as being  trialled by Fujitsu and Philips – deployed in a next-generation Kindle-type device, will turn the business models of the publishing market upside down. A flexible, large-format, mobile device that is web-connected, drives down the value of subscriptions as access to quality content moves towards Free.

If the only reason you are gaining revenue from subscriptions is because of the magazine format, then the lifespan of this revenue source is coming to an end. Charging for high-end, quality content is already being challenged: Business Spectator (free) vs Financial Review (subscription).

What content would I pay for? Important timely business information that I don’t want influenced in any way by advertising. And these types of subscription businesses are continuing to perform strongly in the face of free online information. Some examples are legal, accounting, some financial information.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks Tim. This is a subject that could be fleshed out over many beers or coffees. This post was stimulated by the reaction of several publishers to the experiment with electronic paper on the cover of Esquire magazine. Some publishers acted as if they had never heard of e-paper and had no contingency plans.

  2. To go back to the original question, it depends from whose point of view.

    For the reader, maybe the time will come when the piece of paper they hold is electronic. But that will only come when it’s as flexible, intuitive and lightweight as actual paper. If so, then good for them – they’ll have seen an incremental improvement. But until that point there’ll be a place for print.

    For the printer, of course it’s a huge threat. They could go out of business.

    But for the publisher or journalist, electronic paper poses no threat at all. You’ve just taken down a barrier, with all those print and distribution costs removed, to reaching the reader. What it may change is deadline-based journalism, and more of a move to the rolling nature of web publishing.

    Tim Burrowes

  3. […] How will the future of publishing look? […]

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