Wednesday, December 23, 2015
If I had a Christmas wish for the publishing industry it would be a recipe for the right mix for a modern media brand and a market opportunity to hitch a ride on. I think in 2016 both of these wishes may come true.

The first market opportunity I see is a web creditability problem, with the growing concern in the media buying community of automated traffic created by bots and spiders on the internet being estimated as high as 40-50% of global traffic. Current web stats cannot accurately tell the difference between a robot and real person. The only clues are single page visits and traffic from certain countries. This is a window of opportunity for media publishers to gain a competitive advantage in the market as publishers can deliver “real people” through a digital subscription model to compete against other digital ad offerings. The industry is also well positioned as the trusted content leaders to defend the content turf from the native advertising threat. Maybe the industry can use fear to their advantage instead of being subject to digital fear tactics.

The second opportunity is the resurgence in print in book publishing as sales for digital has peaked at an estimated 20-30% of industry sales in the USA, with a growing trend of digital to print readers. Digital did not kill the book industry as it did the music and video rental industry in spite of all hype from the tech industry.  I have also seen digital subscriptions for controlled free publications level off around 50%, which supports this trend in reader behaviour with digital adoption plateauing. So print is still very important part of the mix after the digital shakedown from the tech industry as they have moved on to the banks and cars as their next targets.

For a recipe for the best digital mix we can look to La Presse (French Daily newspaper based in Montreal) for inspiration. In 2011, it boasted a circulation of 263,000 for their Saturday print edition and now it sits at 136,000 in 2015, a 48% decline in print readership. In 2013 La Presse launched a tablet app that has a reach of over 500, 000 (This app won silver on the COPA 2014 awards) users. In September 2105, La Presse announced that in 2016 they would only publish a print version 1x week instead of 6x and concentrate on digital.   






La Presse is a shining example of what is working in the 24/7 news media space with a website, tablet app, mobile version and print edition, what I called the hybrid model. The weekend print edition enables La Presse to stay in the game for the lucrative retail flyer market. What was really smart in the app they created was that it was designed for the screen, took advantage of the benefits of technology and adapted to the scrolling habits of  readers. La Presse’s success has not gone unnoticed, as it is the technology behind the new Toronto Star app that was launched this year.

While the app model is a good distribution channel, my concern is that there is no subscriber database to build a business around long term as all the downloads are through a third party vendor and they will also own your subscribers. The app model also closes the door to other ways readers engage with your brands, as computers still have 50% share of the digital use. That is why I still like browser based digital edition technology for magazines as the publisher has complete control of the brand and owns the subscriber database.

Taking a typical magazine (8" x 10") size and transferring it to the web with this technology has had limited success as it is hard to read. It also requires a zoom to read as the text may be too small. That is not an optimal solution, as it has to be just like print – look and read; not look, zoom and read. The digital magazine is a useful digital subscription (free or paid) tool that delivers real people online and provides space for larger ads vs smaller ads (Leaderboard and Big Box) on websites that are not as effective.

Here is an example of the digital edition of Harrowsmith Country Life (client of mine) that is optimized for the screen (ie: it is just as convenient as print as you do not need to zoom when reading). Harrowsmith is a digest size magazine, which happens to be the optimal dimensions for a digital edition magazine with engagement similar to print readers ie: 50% spend more than 1/2 hour reading.

Harrowsmith is now published 4x a year and its print/digital hybrid model is printed 2x a year.  The demand for print is still strong with paid newsstand sales of over 55,000 copies for the Fall Almanac edition and 30,000 copies for the Spring Garden issue. As we all know, paid is the ultimate proof of readership.



So there you go, my Christmas wish list for the publishing industry that includes a recipe for digital success and a market opportunity to hitch a ride on. The publishing industry needs to forge their own path in 2016 as a united group to compete in the digital landscape, not just copy what everybody else is doing in a me-too strategy. 

The ability to create a qualified audience that delivers real eyeballs has always been an industry strength and is even more important now in the digital age. My personal Christmas wish is that technology be used to create world peace and harmony. Have a nice holiday!

PS: Masthead is a sponsor of FFWD Advertisng and Marketing week that is being held in Toronto, Jan 25-29. You can enter in a draw for a pair of tickets at this link. Winner will be announced on Jan 11.

About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

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Lorene Shyba says:
Full of terrific information, Thanks!...
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