Digital revolution in publishing and media: what’s changed and predictions for next decade

How publishing has changed in the last decade! Back in 2008 digital basically meant websites, unwieldy content driven projects with a vaguely planned advertising revenue model.  They were considered a distraction from the main business which was print publications, sold on the newsstand or delivered by Royal Mail.

Prompted by a somewhat unexpected 10 year anniversary for my digital media consultancy business, Penmaen Media, I thought I’d have a stab at summing up the main changes in the last decade. And, more dangerously, venture to predict what media might look like in 2028.

How digital has changed publishing in the last 10 years


1. Mobile replaces desktop

A decade ago, magazine design was translated directly to large square computer screens. People now turn to mobile first so content layout and design has to start with smaller screens, and build around smaller chunks of content. Magazine style apps designed for tablets have probably peaked, and are largely now bundled with print subscriptions.

2. Newsstand sales collapse

Print magazine sales volume is half the level of a decade ago, and many former mass titles are a shadow of their former selves. The ongoing decline in print newspaper sales means fewer readers going into the newsstand. Niche titles are finding newsstand sales expensive to service and are therefore focussing on subscription.

3. Fragmentation and disruption

Digital entrants in many markets, from enterprising bloggers to VC backed insurgents, have won readers and advertisers away from traditional publishers who were slow to adapt. Once mighty brands like Company, Bliss, Sugar, Glamour, NME and FHM have fallen. In the travel sector, Suitcase is challenging Conde Nast traveller.

4. Discovery by recommendation not browsing

Readers find new media brands through recommendation from friends or social networks, rather than browsing on a physical or virtual newsstand. Promotion is now about disseminating enticing content on multiple channels, rather than buying till sites. Although the recent decline in Facebook traffic might prompt a renewed interest in SEO.

5. Focus on audience not content

B2B publishers are now much more focussed on serving their niche professional communities with a range of print and digital products and live events. Consumer publishers are also exploring events and e-commerce. Both are gradually shifting from a focus on products to a range of services for their selected audience.

6. Print frequency reduced

The collapse in recruitment advertising and other print classified has pretty much killed off B2B print weeklies (although news print weeklies are still buoyant). There’s a noticeable move to monthly or even quarterly publications, with more of a digest or analytical bias. And celebrity and lifestyle weeklies like heat or Take a break have seen their sales crash.

7. Subscriptions replace free content

The controlled circulation model for B2B titles was still going strong in 2008. But now declining ad revenues and increased postage costs are pushing publishers to grow online registrations and ultimately move to paid subscriptions: The Lawyer is a good example. Online content that was free to air can no longer be funded by ad revenues, so a variety of paywall approaches are being tested.

8. Content studio not display ads

Advertisers are spending a large proportion of their marketing spend on content. The smarter publishers have reduced their reliance on display ads and set up in-house content studios to produce articles, reports, research, events, videos, microsites and more on behalf of their clients. This content is as likely to be used in clients’ owned media or third party as well as the publishers’ own channels.

9. Readers/members have more say

The shift to subscriptions and growth in live events has brought editors closer to their readers, and the accessibility of social media has made it easier for readers to comment and influence the content, and even contribute.

10. Influencers replace freelancers

Specialist writers and contributors these days may have their own blogs and social channels, and appear at live events, becoming influencers and mini celebs in their own market, whether that be travel, dentistry or angling. The power balance has shifted, and media owners need to collaborate with niche influencers to access their audience as well as their content.

What publishing might look like in next 10 years

1. Super personalised content

Digital is already allowing readers to explore their niche interests in great depth. The growth in behavioural analytics and subscription/registration will make it easy for AI to work out what content a reader wants next, based on their location, behaviour and profile.

2. Suite of products and services for niche communities

Media brands with a strong reputation will nurture their audiences and provide a range of tools, information and services to make their work or personal life run more smoothly.

3. Reviews and guides driving commerce

Consumer and business media brands will be able to track behaviour and spot who is interested in a product or considering buying a service.  Then they will present independent reviews and guides to assist their choice – and take a commission on the resulting sale.

4. Sponsor collaborations

Working closely with clients, media brands will use the knowledge of their audience and how best to communicate to advise on all aspects of the marketing mix, from data to design, lead generation to conversion, across digital, print, video, audio, live events and more. Traditional display advertising might just disappear.

5. Innovative subscription and funding models

Subscription models will diversify – maybe groups of media owners will collaborate to offer an “all you can eat” subscription across multiple brands. Customers will be able to pay for access over shorter terms, or use credits for specific services. Major investigations or research might be crowdfunded on a project basis. The shift towards “membership” with deeper affiliation and benefits in business markets will accentuate.

6. More data and intelligence services for big decisions

Business publishers will shift their emphasis to data and intelligence services, providing clients with accessible and relevant information to support key purchases and business processes, building a long term collaborative relationship. There may no longer be any printed B2B magazines (or newspapers).

7. Insurgent digital entrants

Established media brands who are slow to adapt will be disrupted by digital entrants who better understand the importance of user experience and relevant content.

8. New contributor models

Specialist contributors in consumer or business markets will negotiate a different relationship with publishers, recognising that they bring their own following to a media brand’s audience.

9. Live and online matchmaking and facilitation

Content is the best way to build a targeted audience, and in specialist and business markets, there is strong interest in connecting with the rest of one’s niche community, in person or virtually. Media brands will play an important role facilitating these connections, through live events or online networks.

10. Print as a special event

I think it likely that print b2b magazines will disappear by 2028, and consumer weeklies will be barely viable outside the news and politics sector. But print still has a tactile appeal, and will be used for special reports, or significant events, or magazines that have more keepable content, and edge into the territory of books.

What do you think? Have I missed anything obvious? Do you think my predictions are not radical enough? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of my predictions and how they might affect your media business.

About the author:

Carolyn Morgan has launched, acquired, grown and sold specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  A founder of the Specialist Media Show, she now advises media businesses on their digital strategy. 


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