Can publishers sell?

A post worth reading is Ken Doctor’s ‘The Newsonomics of 100 products a year‘, a piece about how newspapers and magazines are leveraging content to produce, well, sellable content. Raid your archive to produce ebooks and apps that give niche material to subscribers and other buyers.

UK magazine publishers seem to have been quite quick to do this already, both in traditional print (repackaging content in ‘bookazines’) and in apps, but what’s also noticeable is that they are also paying much more attention to other sources of revenue, the money that doesn’t come from copy, content or ad sales.

The people who led the way, of course, were Reader’s Digest, offering up books, music, videos (DVDs for the young people in the audience) to their huge database through their exceptional direct marketing machine. RD in fact make significantly more (to a factor of 20+) from products than they do from their mag, and despite the pressures on their circulation are still managing to extract large value from their databases. 

The big magazine publishers didn’t really get involved in this side of the business; the odd ‘reader offer’ here or there (but often that was in lieu of ad revenue), tickets to events, one or two ‘best of’ book compilations, but the big money was in selling magazines and selling advertising based on that circulation. ‘Other revenue’ was nickel and dime stuff, or was completely separate, like Haymarket’s exhibition division.

But others have made it work, and they tend to be smaller niche titles who, being closer to their market, knew that their market would buy stuff and come to events. For example, MyHobbyStore selling model plans to readers of its model titles; videos (sorry, DVDs) of steam locomotives to customers of Ian Allan; large numbers of regional motorhome shows for Warners customers. This has been good business for these publishers in the broadest sense – it has generated extra revenue, but it has tied the titles more tightly to their readers; the one feeds and supports the other. In some publishing contexts the word ‘community’ does actually mean something.

The big boys are now trying to get involved, with ‘direct to consumer’ directors being appointed or recruited at Future, Bauer, Immediate and Hearst. The question is, can they make it work? Are they close enough to their markets to offer the right products at the right prices? Will their readers trust the brands enough to become customers?


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