The Downturn: Accelerating the Digital Publishing Transition

As part of my company’s focus on the media industry, I sit on a few industry groups where I have the opportunity to spend quality time with senior media and publishing industry executives.

Like any CEO, I have a natural tendency to believe that my company is, if not totally counter-cyclical, at least somewhat immune to the effects of the economic downturn. I’ve heard enough CEOs make the claim (cf: this query), often where it’s ostensibly absurd, that I should ask myself if I don’t have a case of CEO denial. Am I arguing something akin to the rise in bedbugs is good for the hotel industry or not?

So when a recent publishing executive group I sit on started to discuss the economic downturn, I turned up my defenses to make sure I didn’t have my happy ears on.

But executive after executive said that they believed the downturn is accelerating the digital publishing transformation. Not because I said it. Not because, as a technology supplier that helps companies transition, I want it to be true. But because about a dozen senior folks from many different publishing sectors said it.

Why?

  • Foot-dragging in some publishing sectors has already gone on almost a decade, slowly whittling away at the traditional models and those who support them.
  • As the decade has passed, the top brass at publishers continues to change, slowly replacing less tech savvy executives with more tech savvy ones.
  • Enough time has passed that there are now examples of both new and traditional publishing companies who have successfully transitioned business models. The “it can’t be done” rationalization starts to wear thin.
  • Hands are being forced. Seeking to cut costs, publishers are forced to make real trade-offs between investing in the future and preserving the past. When forced, most executives will bet on the future.

Now that I see the picture, it’s clear: after roughly a decade of fence-setting, the downturn is forcing publishers of all ilks to move. The downturn is accelerating the transition to digital publishing. And that’s not happy ears.

2 responses to “The Downturn: Accelerating the Digital Publishing Transition

  1. Mr. John Evan Frook

    Mr. Kellogg: As usual, your blog is right on the money. As one who grew up in the media, this change in the media feels absolutely certain, and certainly happening now. In other words, your ears are — in fact — simply your ears. I do not think they you are listening with a bias. All of those factors you mentioned are why the media is changing. The old guard is changing.However, to me there exists an associative question. It is whether publishers will realize they have lost the “spin” channel. By that I mean, spin now belongs to the people. That belongs to the people. The media’s job is to simply to cultivate what it is about. In newspaper journalism, that is simply straight news and editorials that are carefully written after careful evaluation by editorial boards. So what happens to Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone? To me, when they do what they do, it is not spin. The challenge is to conform to what the expectation is. Not make stuff up, ever. And stay true. Of course, for all these and other publications, the more instantly relevant they make themselves through proper disciplines in metadata and search, the better off they are. And lest one thinks this is in any way biased. In fact, I am a lone wolf in the wilderness. Uncompensated in the media, uncompensated in technology, but a thinker nonetheless.Please keep your ears to the ground and your eyes looking ahead. Your coverage of this and Oracle and other subjects keeps us smart in the hinterland. I thank you.

  2. Dear Mr. Kellogg,After reading your blog I could only conclude that it was well reasoned, logical, well sourced and most probably wrong.It's not that I doubt anything you said. I do believe that your publisher friend told you what he did and I even believe he even meant it. Moreover, it is also true that the downturn has publishers eager for digital profits. However, I very much doubt anything will be accelerated, for several reasons.1. We've heard it before: According to ZenithOptimedia magazine ad spend decreased during the last recession as well and then increased again. This is consistent with the fact that business cycles is driven by durable goods (these are the purchases that can be most easily delayed) and magazines are driven my durable good advertising.Anyway you slice it, Magazine ad spend commands a higher share of ad dollars than it did 10 years ago (as surprising that it may be).So I don't see how the recession can accelerate any kind of publishing transition. The dollars will come back.2. Senior management has been saying the same thing for years: Every CEO wants to be seen as progressive and everybody in publishing has been paying lip service to Digital for some time now. There hasn't been a lack of talk, there has been a lack of results.3. They don't know how: Publishers have been so feeble online not because of a lack of desire or even investment or even from a lack of initiatives from th C Suite. They have failed in most of their digital initiatives because they don't know how to go about it.It's not investment that is holding them back, but a failure to adapt their internal decisionmaking process. I wrote an article about this. You can see it at:http://www.digitaltonto.com/archives/217Regards,Greg Satell

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