The publishing industry is in trauma. The widespread availability of online free news has decimated all three of its traditional revenue sources – print sales, print subscriptions and print advertising.
Common wisdom may suggest that if publishers transform to digital, then their future is assured. After all, we are moving to a digital world.
Well, guess what? Today, digital publishers are also suffering hardships with revenues from digital, with digital subscriptions comprising only a small, single percentage of publisher revenues.
This was the backdrop for much of the discussion at the FIPP Digital Innovators’ Summit 2017 that took place in Berlin on March 20-21. Many inspirational presentations provided plenty of innovative ideas for how publishers can evolve. For example, Jamie Pallot, of Emblematic Group demoed VR capabilities that may soon become part of our mainstream news consumption experience. Athan Stephanopoulos of NowThis showed the power and massive scale of user-generated videos in news. Edoardo Jacucci of Bisnode and others talked of how to boost profiling with data and analytics to drive personalization. And several sessions discussed how to maximize and attract ad revenues.
It seems to me that all the technologies and inspirations I heard at the conference form pieces in a larger puzzle that is the single central challenge in the industry – How should publishers go about transforming to digital?
This transformation is complex, expensive and traumatic to the organization. It offers no guarantee of revenue or success. It necessitates new technologies, new skillsets and new business models. So it is understandable that traditional publishers are hesitant to make the leap. Indeed, many seem to lack the leadership, vision, finances and the appetite to undertake a transformation.
But the way I see it, the world is going digital. It might take 5 or 10 years, but sooner or later, digital will prevail and printed media will be marginalized. Traditional publishers cannot sit on the fence much longer. They are facing two choices – either they can invest minimally in digital while basically continuing “business as usual” – a “safe” option which will lead to an unadventurous gradual demise. Or they can pursue whole-heartedly the transformation to digital and give themselves at least a fighting chance to succeed.