Publishers are Looking at the Wrong Role Models

Publishers are Looking at the Wrong Role Models

Over the last couple of years I have spoken to dozens of traditional publishers who are trying to work out how to reinvent their business for the digital age.

Nearly all of them are making ONE BIG MISTAKE.

They are looking at their own industry for the answers.

They listen to Rupert Murdoch. If he says the solution is to set up paywalls and condemn Google they nod in agreement.

They go to industry conferences and reinforce their existing views by listening to people with the same views.

They get industry newsletters which have case studies from their own industry.

The old saying, ‘rearranging the chairs on the Titanic’, springs to mind.

Who Are The Right Role Models?

The right role models are born-digital publishers, gaming websites and, dare I say it, porn companies. Research in the latter may have to wait until after work!

Born-Digital Publishers

Businesses that have started, grown and survived online know what content to provide, how to provide it and, most importantly, how to make money from it.

I recently followed an online conversation on paidContent between Ashley Friedlien, CEO of eConsultancy, and Andy Oakes, Publisher of New Media Age. Andy was defending his decision to lock more of their online content behind a paywall. Ashley was giving his detailed thoughts about why this decision won’t work.

I think New Media Age is a great magazine, but it is seeking inspiration for its online strategy from the print industry. Ironic, as it’s sole raison d’etre is reporting what is happening in the online world. Other print titles within the new media / marketing niche are failing; just take a look at Media Week and Brand Republic. They have all tried the same strategies and they have all failed.

Ashley, on the other hand, founded and runs a profitable online content company in the new media space. It grew by 30% this year, opened new offices in New York and has a 90% renewal rate.

Andy should be hiring Ashley as a consultant, not wasting time defending a broken strategy, borrowed from a troubled sector.

Print publishers must stop navel gazing, if they want to survive. Businesses like eConsultancyHuffington Post and MarketingSherpa provide a roadmap to online publishing success. They should study what these sites do, and copy them if the want to prosper.


Gaming companies lead the way in hardware, software and the Internet. Whatever happens in the gaming world will eventually end up in the broader technology world.

It is similar to Formula 1 motor racing. New technologies are developed for these cutting edge cars. This technology then slowly finds its way into performance road cars and eventually family saloons.

If you want to understand how the world of online content will develop, you can observe what is happening in online gaming.

Here are a few trends you should keep an eye on:

  • virtual currencies
  • micropayments
  • user control over their experience
  • levels and reward for achievment
  • interactivity increasing with skill and competence
  • facilitating recognition amongst peers
  • strong interactive communities
  • real-time user conversations
  • pay for features, lives, weapons, etc which save time, improve chance of success, help gain recognition, etc
  • high quality multimedia
  • cross platform – PC, TV, mobile
  • innovations and surprises
  • free basic versions. Simple upgrade path to paid

Coming to content websites near you soon!

Adult Content

Porn drove the early market for videos and video players.

When the Internet came along, it was porn that drove early adoption.

Today adult content is the most competitive online sector, yet revenues continue to grow year on year. To achieve their impressive results the industry has had to continually innovate and be highly creative.

Some of the trends you look out for (so you don’t have to undertake your own research!):

  • co-opetition – working with competitors is more profitable than competing
  • nichification – breaking content into very small niches
  • affiliate revenues over advertising
  • live video content
  • micropayments
  • multi-site passes
  • downloadable content
  • user generated multimedia content
  • levelling – sophisticated and flexible upgrade paths

‘Some’ of the tactics and strategies that the adult content industry uses are disgraceful and no legitimate publisher would want to use them. However every publisher should be aware of them because the chances are these tactics will be used by competitors in every sector.


I want to reiterate; I love print magazines. I want them to survive and thrive.

However, based on the conversations I’ve been having with publishers, they need to wake up and smell the coffee.

There are no simple or easy solutions for print publishers moving online. The market has been turned upside down and will never be the same again.

However, choosing the right role models can greatly increase the chance of success.

Traditional publishers who follow other traditional publishers could just be booking their ticket on the Titanic. Or as Aaron Savage wrote in the comments on the article mentioned above “There is a danger amongst publishing in general that everyone decides to follow a particular path that ends with lots of lemmings throwing themselves off a cliff”.

It’s a statement of the obvious, but the best way to increase the chance of success is to learn from those who are successful. Many born online publications have discovered formulas that work and many are rapidly growing in one of the worst recessions the world has ever seen.

These are the role models that traditional publishers should be following.

And the most successful online publishers are themselves continually learning from the real innovators – online gaming and adult content sites. If you want to know what trends are coming down the line, this is where you will find them.

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