10 hot topics for independent publishers
What are independent media and publishing businesses talking about? I have moderated an online community of B2B and consumer specialist media leaders for the last two years. It’s called the Speciall Media Group, hosted on Guild and we now have 180 members. As well as online posts and surveys, we have run several virtual round tables and occasionally some of us have met in person at events and conferences. After analysing the content of thousands of posts I have identified ten hot topics. Here’s a summary of the insights from our members on their 10 hot topics.
1. Paywalls and digital subscriptions
Everyone is now moving from free online content to some form of registration and then to a paywall. There has been plenty of lively discussion about benchmarks on conversion rates, how to set meters and the merits of free trials. Also, experimentation on subscription pricing – annual vs monthly or even weekly. Plus considering how to feed the funnel with social media and email newsletters. One interesting trend is the supporter or altruistic model, which the Guardian has made a surprising success.
2. Virtual events
Virtual events have been a steep learning curve for media businesses in the last two years. By sharing tips on event platforms, scheduling virtual speakers, marketing to delegates and developing sponsorship packages, our members have built their confidence in virtual events (and awards) as a viable business model for the foreseeable future.
3. Advertising sales
The pandemic has been a rollercoaster for advertising sales, especially in recruitment and job boards, but confidence and demand from commercial partners has now returned, and there is more innovation in sponsorship packages. Virtual events have boosted the creation of sponsored video content for clients, who appreciate the higher quality analytics on engagement. As our advertisers become more sophisticated in their marketing, there is more focus on quality data and qualified leads. But finding good salespeople is an eternal challenge, which brings me onto the next topic, people.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic prompted plenty of discussion about remote and flexible working, and the challenge of managing hybrid teams. Concerns about staff wellbeing and morale prompted the sharing of tips on motivation and teambuilding. Then came the Great Resignation of Autumn 2021 and a new focus on retention, recognition and reward. Hiring sales staff and finding sales freelances remains a continual headache. The best tip I read was hiring out of work actors for telesales – they are articulate and inured to rejection!
5. Content development
The role of the editor is changing as content formats evolve, and this raises its own recruitment and skills challenges. Podcasts are increasingly popular, in B2B as well as consumer markets, and the explosion in virtual events has fuelled the growth of video content. More publishers are discovering the value of their archive, especially in specialist markets.
We had a lively round table on the “build vs buy” debate. Many publishers are hiring in-house (or offshored) tech teams rather than buying in digital platforms. Some have claimed back five figure sums in R&D credits for tech development. And there are early signs of experimentation with AI and machine learning for tagging, personalisation, and curation.
7. Membership and communities
Interest is strong in evolving subscription models towards membership propositions. In B2B the appeal of corporate, multi-user packages is evident. Many membership packages include events and digital communities. So there is interest in the craft skills of moderating online communities.
8. Future of print
Discussions on print have revolved around reducing frequency, increasing price and production values. Some publishers are considering withdrawing from newsstand sales altogether.
Interest in e-commerce is high, but actual experience is limited. While Future is widely admired, the challenge is how to apply their e-commerce model to independent media businesses.
10. Recommended suppliers
Members seeking new suppliers for email newsletters, CMS, CRM, paywalls and payments, digital magazines, web design or virtual event platforms are eager to learn from the real-world experiences of their peers.
If you’d like to join the Speciall Media Group in 2022, you can apply here.
The group is solely for senior directors and leaders in independent specialist media businesses – no vendors or suppliers allowed. It’s free (for now) but invite only. Thanks to Guild for a user-friendly community platform – and the facility to download all the posts to a CSV to make it easier to analyse. The word cloud above is based on analysing message content – both topics and also “community” words like group, new, thanks and share.
If you’d like to talk about any of these ten topics and how they relate to your media business, do get in touch to fix a chat over a real or virtual coffee.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.