Paywall Strategies 2011 – an overview of our first conference

Apologies for the lack of activity on this blog over recent weeks / months. I have been knee-deep building our new business – Briefing Media Ltd.

We organised our first conference last week – on digital publishing models and how media owners can best monetise their online content.

I thought it went pretty well. There was a very senior and engaged audience and we aim to make the event an annual one.

Now on to the next projects – a new website for the telecoms industry and a conference in June on Mobile Publishing Strategies for Media Owners.

Here’s a video overview of last week.

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A quick update on how my new business is going

I wrote a quick piece on TheMediaBriefing today talking about how the new business is going and sharing some stats from our first 10 weeks.

We also announced our first conference: Paywall Strategies 2011 – looking at how to monetise content online. Paywalls, registration systems and freemium models.

I hope that readers of this blog will be able to come along. There’s a great programme – and we even offer a money-back guarantee off your registration fees if you don’t love it!

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My top tips for getting ahead in the media business – or any other for that matter…

About a month ago I did a short video interview for Propeller – a media PR firm in London.

I really went in to give them an overview of our new business The Media Briefing but they asked me to do a quick film for their talking heads series.

I was asked for my top tips for getting ahead in the media business & also my most embarrassing moment.

Here’s mine – but you can also see other far more worthy opinions.

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Paid Content – it’s not about ideology but rather strategy and execution

This month the news has been awash with stories about paywalls – particularly the initial results of News International’s experiment with The Times and Sunday Times.

The numbers have been pored over enough by now but I would highlight Clay Shirky’s analysis (together with the comments) as being a ‘go to’ article on the subject. You can also follow a wide range of debate on The Times’ page on TheMediaBriefing.

To my mind though the problem with the paywall debate so far is that it largely seems to be centred on ideology. Murdoch shouts that quality journalism has to be paid for. Alan Rusbridger talks about the ‘mutualisation’ of content at The Guardian. Arianna Huffington stresses the importance of being part of the ‘link economy’. Really the debate has to be about business. Hard cash. Making profits.

So, quietly, and with little fanfare I was interested to read the results of the business publisher Euromoney, released today. There’s been no Twitter frenzy of comments. No polemic pieces about search engines stealing content. In fact I bet the majority of people reading this post would struggle to name either their Chief Executive or any of their major products. As I write this Robert Andrews of PaidContent seems to have been the only journalist or web commentator to cover them.

But, let’s have a look at some of the highlights and key phrases from their statement:

Adjusted profit before tax up 37% to £86.6m – a record

Adjusted operating margin improved from 25% to 30%

The resilience of subscription income, combined with a good recovery in advertising and sponsorship revenues… produce record profits…

These record profits, coming so soon after some of the toughest and most volatile financial markets in many years, underline the success of the group’s strategy to build a more robust and higher quality information business

…strategy continues to be executed through increasing the proportion of revenues derived from subscription products; accelerating the online migration of its print products as well as developing new electronic information services; investing in products of the highest quality that customers will value in tough times as well as good; eliminating products with a low margin or too high a dependence on advertising

In the announcement you’ll see no mention of ideology or waiting to see how business models settle down online. Instead you see a business talking about strategy, implementation and driving profits.

Sure, Euromoney’s traditional business model is in the midst of disruption. They talk about a changing emphasis from advertising to subscriptions and about a migration from print to online. They share many of the challenges that other media businesses face. But the customer-focused approach to these challenges has been to see the opportunity created by a move online and shape the business to take full advantage.

I know a lot of the people at Euromoney, admire the company greatly and have been a long-time shareholder. When higher profile media companies talk about how they can monetise their content online they would be well advised to pay a bit more attention to their B2B cousins. The lessons I would say that newspapers could learn from companies like Euromoney are:

  • Accept that the world has changed and the things that customers will pay for online are very different from those which they did in print.
  • Invest in those new information products and make them of the highest quality.
  • Never set a strategy based upon ideological principles. It must be about profits.
  • Plan for the long-term.
  • Realise that whatever business strategy you do set will ultimately depend on great execution – maybe you should be going out and poaching those B2B marketers and publishers who really understand user-centred product development, detailed subscription acquisition/retention/upsell/cross-sell programmes and lifetime value calculations?

For any media business currently planning their online paid content strategy can I recommend TheMediaBriefing’s first in-depth intelligence report which is published this month. You can request a free executive summary by clicking here “Paywall Strategies for Online Content“. We will also be hosting our first conference on the subject (and hope to have a speaker from Euromoney) at the end of February 2011 – announcements coming soon on the site.

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www.TheMediaBriefing.com – our first site launches next week

In my previous post I talked about a new company that I have co-founded with Neil Thackray called Briefing Media Ltd.

We aim to take a different approach to the business media industry.

An approach that combines many of the disciplines of traditional niche media publications with the latest semantic technology to aid the discovery of the very best third party content.

Marrying old and new media if you like.

The team are currently developing dedicated sites for six industry verticals, but our first covers the media industry itself and is due to launch next week.

It will be called TheMediaBriefing and if you work in any aspect of the media industry – B2B, Consumer Magazines, Newspapers, Radio, Digital Media, Mobile, Agencies, TV & Film or Finance – then please come and take a look.

Patrick Smith, our editor and lead media analyst, is currently refining the content and taxonomy for the site. He is also gathering up a faculty of experts from  the industry who will be providing exclusive interviews, video commentary and regular columns about what’s really going on in their businesses.

If you’ve got something to say about the strategic aspects of running a media business in today’s digital world we’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail: contributions@briefingmedia.com

Our site is not live yet but if you would like to register to see it first please leave your e-mail address in the box on the homepage and we’ll be in touch.

Much as I hate the concept, we will be launching in beta so if you spot a glitch or miss-classification please do let us know.

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The Michaelmas Itch – and a new beginning in business media

I took my kids back for their first day of school today. They were kitted out in new uniform and it felt like a new start to the year – but it’s not. It’s September. So why that feeling?

Then I remembered a phrase I had heard in the mid-1990’s in my first management job in B2B media.

I was working for a company called Metal Bulletin in the armpit of Surrey (apologies to Worcester Park residents). I had just been promoted to Head of Direct Marketing & had built a good team around me. The company was growing fast and we were doing well. I was young, extremely cocky and thought I was not only the world’s greatest marketer but also a ‘natural’ at this management game.

Then, during the space of about 3 weeks, half my team resigned. And it was not only my team, a lot of good people from other parts of the company all seemed to leave as well.

In a slight panic I went to our Chief Executive, Tom Hempenstall, and said that something must be wrong. We needed to up our pay scales and do something drastic to stem this loss of key people. I remember Tom smiling at me and reassuring me that the sky was not falling in “It’s just the Michaelmas Itch” he said “it always happens at this time of year because people have been brought up with the new academic year signifying change”.

So now, as the Michaelmas (Autumn) term begins I am pleased to announce some new plans myself.

In the coming weeks I will be launching a new business media company – Briefing Media Ltd.

My co-founder is Neil Thackray who was previously CEO at both Quantum and Nexus Business Media. Over the past few months Neil and I have been discussing the opportunities to launch a series of niche B2B sites without the legacy issues that many traditional publishers face. Neil has already written a post on his blog explaining a little more about what we are trying to do, but in summary we are looking to combine some very clever semantic technology with traditional niche publishing disciplines to create a series of websites. I’m delighted that Patrick Smith has also recently joined us as our first Editor.

The initial site aims to launch towards the end of September and I will post further information on this blog as we gradually open up the curtains on what we are doing.

It’s exciting, hard work and fun. Like starting a new academic year at school. Just without the hurty shoes.

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Wired UK – How is the UK’s magazine launch of the year doing?

Just over 12 months ago I wrote a couple of posts on this blog talking about the brave and exciting launch of Wired UK.  In them I suggested that the publishers (Condé Nast) were missing a bit of an opportunity to build their subscriber base.

Last year the magazine won the British Society of Magazine Editors “Launch of the Year” award. They also released their audited circulation figures recently so I thought it was an opportune moment to review how they had done.

The numbers

Average circulation for the last 6 months was 50,009 copies per month. The circulation was broken down as follows:

17,488 subscription copies of which:

  • 793 were sold at full rate
  • 13,659 were sold at between 50% of full rate and full rate (the current sub offer is at 51%)
  • 2,869 were sold at between 20% and 50% of full rate
  • 166 were sold at less than 10% full rate
  • 49 were sold as multiple subs

Full rate for a subscription is listed as £47.88

In addition they sold an average of 22,472 copies per month on the newstand – largely at the full cover price of £3.99 per copy.

The Money

So, let’s make an estimate of the current annual circulation revenue for the magazine.

Subscription revenue = c. £425,000 per year.

Newstand revenue = c. £1,075,000 per year minus (say) 30% for the retailers = c. £750,000 per year.

Total circulation revenue estimate = £1,175,000 per year.

Now, clearly Wired UK is a great advertising vehicle for brands wishing to reach an attractive demographic. I can only guess what they charge for a page (anyone who can find a link to their print media pack online please leave it in the comments below) but the latest issue has an advertising/editorial ration of 1:5 with 31 pages of advertising.

They’ve obviously sold their advertising on the back of a circulation of 50,000 because they are currently giving away 10,000 free copies per month on airlines, in clubs and spas. They also have an interesting web offering that I would hope brings in some decent revenue and which I know they are looking to develop.

How should we judge the launch?

As I said previously you have to admire any company launching new publishing products in early 2009 – especially a big, expensive print glossy. Hats off to them.

Wired UK had been tried a couple of times previously with no long-term success. In 1997 it was closed with an average paid circulation of 40,000 (similar to today). It was suggested that it needed to be selling double that amount to break even – mind you, it did have a staff of 32 at the time.

At launch the editor claimed a £2m first year promo spend. I doubt it was that much but even so their production, distribution and marketing costs must be pretty sizeable so the company probably haven’t seen a return on their investment yet. It will be interesting to see now if their momentum can be continued.

I still firmly believe that they missed a massive opportunity to sign people up for subscriptions at launch, when the buzz was highest. I like the magazine but have never seen a single piece of subscription promotion for it (and god knows I’ve now written enough to show up on someone’s radar…).

As a result I have probably only bought about one in four of their monthly issues.

So, it’s great that Wired UK has established itself. The editorial team have done a great job with the product but I think the subscription marketers need a bit of a kick up the backside!

Sorry team – with a better early promotion schedule I think you could have easily had  50,000 subscribers by now.


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