Monthly Archives: January 2009

Surviving and thriving in recession – Feb 24th, London

A quick plug for an event which SIPA are hosting at the end of Feb in London.

There are lots of these type of events around at the moment but this will actively focus on the specialist media community. 

It is designed to be very interactive and limited to 20 participants. Hosted by Robin Crumby of Melcrum Publishing. Details here.

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Insource, outsource… automate?

118983599_0a4aaf227e4On Tuesday the Business Media blog posted a suggestion that various business media companies should come together to merge their back offices. The writer focused on the 2 Apax backed businesses – Incisive Media and Emap – and suggested that this would be a good way to generate some of the synergies without properly crunching the businesses together (as the original plan had been).

S/he went on to suggest that the combined entity could then invite some of the other key players in the UK business media sector to join them – RBI, Informa & UBM.

Over the course of my career I have been responsible for running a variety of ‘back office’ functions covering customer service, database development, delivery networks, subscriptions and controlled circulation management. I have regularly been involved in debates about whether these functions are better off handled in house or out of house – be it a bureau in Market Harborough or Chennai.

Generally my rule of thumb has been that high value customers (paid subs, conference delegates etc) should remain in house; whilst lower level activity which does not involve a significant payment or complex customer service can be done more efficiently and cheaper out of house. They tend to involve the type of tasks that can be written down in a Service Level Agreement (SLA) & closely monitored.

Thinking about this again today as I read the Business Media post, it struck me that one of the big issues here is not about the economics of insourcing or outsourcing but rather about how hopelessly inefficient most publishing companies still are. In all the organisations I have worked for there are generally a fantastic number of manual processes and workarounds which make up for systems that really aren’t fit for purpose in a digital age. 

Now, I know it is easier said than done to link multiple databases to get a single view of your customers & prospects; or to provide full self service of accounts for those customers via your web sites. I cannot bear to think about the number of hours I have spent on projects like this during my career, but… have a wander out into your accounts, customer service, web teams, database or subscriptions departments today and look at what your staff are doing. Document their work flow.

Tell me you’re not horrified.

There is an old adage that says any task which you have to do more than three times you should look to automate. The way forward for back office savings has to start with automation – whether alone or in partnership with others in the sector.

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Short interview

Yesterday I gave a short interview to the team at http://www.businessmedia.co.uk – you can read it here.

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The shift from online to print (no typo)

About 5 years ago I was invited to attend a small roundtable organised by PIRA – a research consultancy. They had been asked by one of their clients (a printer, I think) to gather together a few people from the magazine publishing industry to debate the future of print & give them a steer on where the industry might be headed.

It was an interesting crowd of around a dozen people including Tim Brooks, then of IPC and now the MD of Guardian News Media;  Simon Middelboe, current CEO of Emap Inform; Ian Bissel, then of Emap and now at Reed Exhibitions and Victoria Scott from the Readers Digest.  

The roundtable was supposed to last most of the day but by lunchtime I think there was a general agreement that, in a magazine industry context, print had no real future. We called a halt.

Now I’m not sure how PIRA’s sponsor took this news but I remember an outcry at the PPA (the UK’s trade association for large media companies) when the news filtered back to their various committees. Ian Locks, the Chairman, wrote an indignant leader for Magazine News extolling the virtues of print and the PPA began a research programme to prove the case for print based advertising.

Looking back from January 2009 I was recently revisiting that day.

I have no doubt that most of the participants will view the past 5 years as a validation of our conclusions. A lot of print titles have gone to the wall, valuations for all media businesses are being savaged and magazines are struggling to compete with their online competitors. I am sure that at every ‘old media’ publishing house in the land executives are trying to calculate a tipping point where some aspect of their print publishing no longer makes economic sense & activities should be transitioned to the web – with all of the resulting challenges that this brings.

In fact Steve Rubel even went so far as to profer a date for the end of tangible media in the US; January 2014 – mark it in your Blackberry or iPhone calendar (assuming you no longer use a desk diary).

I too look back over the past 5 years as evidence that print doesn’t work for a lot of the future media models. However, I have seen a couple of examples recently that suggest it still does have a place – especially when it takes advantage of advances in print technology and tailored content.

Citywire is a financial publishing company founded by Lawrence Lever, formerly Financial Editor of the Mail on Sunday. It was launched online in 1999 and covers the fund management, personal finance and financial adviser sectors. The site has grown rapidly, carries a lot of proprietary data and employs many journalists who have passed professional exams and are registered as investment advisers but the FSA. It is 25% owned by Reuters. 

As a ‘web first’ media company Citywire is well placed to avoid the legacy print activities which currently cause so much heartache to old media. And yet, over the years they have chosen to launch magazines alongside their websites. The difference with magazines like New Model Adviser is that they use the huge amount of detail gained from web registration forms to offer personalised content and advertising to their readers. I would imagine that the advertisers see a lot of value in being able to demonstrate individual fund performance to their target audience based on readers preferences, and will pay premium rates to be able to do so.

The same principle of personalised content is being explored by Idiomag – albeit in a digital edition only but it could work in print. Idiomag is a bespoke music magazine that can be individually tailored by users who can import their profiles from services like Last.fm. It  provides an interesting model for publishers who are exploring the ‘pool of content’ approach to publishing where journalists no longer write for a specific title but rather feed all stories into a central CMS with detailed tagging and a taxonomy. Readers then nominate the content which is relevant to them. This can then linked to e-commerce applications for downloads, gig tickets etc.

I am sure there are many other examples of online media ‘reversing’ into print and would welcome links to any good ones in the comments section below.

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