Monthly Archives: November 2008

You’d have to be mad to launch a media business in the midst of this recession – wouldn’t you?


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(photo from Billerikson on Flickr)

It has now been 3 weeks since I officially left Incisive Media. It seems like a lot longer. 

The general business climate is clearly worsening and the business and professional media industry is right in the eye of the storm (as I discussed in my previous post on structural change). In fact there could hardly be a worse time to be out of work. And yet…

…the more I read about what is taking place in the industry the more I become convinced that we are in a fairly unique window of opportunity for media startups.

Looking through recent results announcements from major publishers, all of them are having to radically restructure their businesses – through merged editorial teams, closing print titles and publishing online or just slashing overheads. The universal problem they have is that they manage legacy media which is losing revenue relevance in a digital age. CEO’s talk about repositioning for a digital world but this is a lot easier said than done – it takes time and the operating margins are very different. Most senior execs know only too well what their media properties should look like in 2009 but to get there they have to cannibalise their existing businesses at exactly the time when they’re trying to squeeze every last drop of revenue out.

We are in an unprecedented period of disruption and yet the key incumbents who have traditionally owned their market sectors are unable to react. 

There’s the opportunity for web savvy business media professionals to launch properties fit for a new media age & with an operational structure which works for today’s business climate.

Hmmm…

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Structural or cyclical?

As the chairman of the Specialised Information Publishers Association (SIPA) in the UK I recently had to write my introduction for the member’s newsletter. Seeing as the contents don’t make it online currently (all will be rectified on a new site soon) I thought I would reproduce it here & also give a plug for a morning event I will be hosting next Tuesday 25th November in London on search marketing (with eminent speakers from Incisive Media, Euromoney Institutional Investor,  the Telegraph Group & Jobsite). 

Chairman’s introduction, November 2008

Structural or cyclical?

Over the past few weeks there have been seemingly endless stories in the UK & US press covering closing titles, layoffs and advertising downturns in the media sector. No-one can doubt that we are entering a fairly severe global recession (and very few remain unaffected) but the question I think we need to ask is how much of what is going on in our industry is cyclical and how much is due to our media world fundamentally changing?

I would argue that, for a lot of publishers, the current economic downturn can provide a convenient excuse to either ignore completely or not put the right level of emphasis into what we do about our changing world. I cannot believe the number of times I have heard otherwise sensible senior executives talk about having seen this all before recently. You youngsters haven’t lived through a recession. I was there in the late ’80’s etc… The cry goes out to batten down the hatches, keep a close eye on costs and wait for a recovery.

But what if they haven’t seen this all before? What if this time it is different? Did those executives in the music distribution industry look back on the advent of MP3s as being just the same as the previous evolutions of delivery – vinyl to cassette; cassette to CD? If so, what has happened to their businesses now? They’ve been disintermediated & lost a lot of power *cough* revenue.

The truth is that periods of economic difficulty often accelerate the pace of change in evolving industry sectors. I believe that the publishing industry, with the ongoing shift from print to digital, is right in the eye of this storm. While everyone is excited by the move online there remains a big challenge to create the right business models and really answer the questions “How do I make the same levels of money from my online activities that I did from print?” 

This is again where associations like SIPA come to the fore. One of the things I have always valued from SIPA is the ability to talk about real issues without a need for corporate posturing. We need to face up to and embrace change. We need to share stories from the trenches of how our companies have adapted & the new models we have created. We need to spend even more time learning, networking and talking to our peers. Ultimately we need to know that our businesses will rebound from recession, but probably in a very different shape from that which they went in.

I look forward to seeing you at a SIPA event soon.

Rory.

Your comments and thoughts are welcome. How much of what is happening to the media industry currently is cyclical and how much is structural and, more to the point, what shape will our industry come out of recession in? I’d be interested to hear your views, please leave any in the comment section below.

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Some good media blogs

I’ve worked in professional publishing and marketing for nearly 20 years. It has long been an under-reported sector but things are now starting to change with the advent of some great blogs. Here are some of my favourites:

Business Media

Monday Note

RexBlog

Business Media Blog

Media Money

Media Guardian

One man & his blog

Publishing 2.0

Paul Conley

Faster Future

Digital Disruption

Asia Business Media

Paid Content

Folio Magazine

Any others that you recommend? Leave links in comments.

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Credit crunched

OK – so yesterday I officially left Incisive Media & not entirely of my own volition…

If truth be told I really left a couple of weeks ago and have been swanning around an island in the South-West of France enjoying half term with the girls; but I was still on the payroll so I could legitimately treat it as an holiday.

No more.

My P45 arrived in the post yesterday. My last monthly salary cheque is in the bank & I am now looking for a interesting new job.

I feel no bitterness towards the company. I am extremely grateful for the time I have spent at Risk Waters and then Incisive. I have learnt a lot and met some fantastic people. I wish everyone who is still there all the best  but now it is time to move on.

Never having been made redundant before I also now think back to times when I have sat on the other side of the table.

Over the course of my career I have had many difficult conversations with good & enthusiastic employees who, generally through no fault of their own, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their industry sector might have been struggling or the company might have taken on a lot of debt at an inopportune time – all of which led to their job suddenly being ‘at risk’.

Those conversations are some of the hardest I have ever had to have but I always said that, while things might seem terrible now, I bet you in 6 months time that you look back and say it was the best thing that ever happened.

I guess I’ll get a chance to see first hand if I have been spinning people a line for all these years…

Rory.

(Photograph by Murray_Fortesque on Flickr)

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