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Big Pubs Looking for Strength in Numbers

Mass publishers are partnering to solve mass publisher problems.


Bill Mickey By Bill Mickey
10/28/2009 -09:43 AM






Where smaller publishers—from b-to-b to consumer enthusiast—form consortiums to attain economies of scale for materials and production services like printing, paper buying and distribution, the mass consumer publishers are setting aside their historically fierce competitiveness to tackle mass problems.  

Across-the-board ad page and revenue drops, online-sourced subscriptions, pay wall models, and digital content formats and distribution are some of the latest battles that big consumer publishers think can be won through solidarity.

It's an interesting concept that can be traced back to then Hachette CEO Jack Kliger's outspoken calls for pre-recession unity to revolutionize rate base—magazines needed to stop competing with each other, come together as a platform and compete with TV, the Internet and radio. "Circulation-based metrics are irrelevant to proving advertising effectiveness," he told an AMC audience in 2005.

Now, sick of feeling the sting from getting spanked by "aggregators," "plagiarists," and "content kleptomaniacs," as Ruport Murdoch put it at a recent event in Beijing where he and the AP's CEO Tom Curley continued their rant against Google et al, big publishers are joining together to ostensibly regain—or actually gain—control of how their content and advertising models are consumed.

How crazy would it have sounded if, before the recession hit, Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst and Meredith all joined together to create a digital distribution platform to develop a proprietary content format and service eReaders?

How about creating an ad network? Up to now, publishers were leveraging and/or creating their own vertical networks. Martha Stewart Living, Meredith and Forbes were all creating them. Now, there's some background chatter about the formation of a multi-publisher ad network. AdAge reported on it, and PaidContent threw a wet blanket on the concept.

And then there's Time Inc.'s year-old Maghound, which offers custom subscription packages to a variety of publications from different publishers. 413,000 issues have been shipped so far, and Maghound's president Dave Ventresca told attendees at MPA's Innovation Summit this month that as the service moves out of its proof of concept stage, it will begin a more robust marketing campaign for all participating publisher titles, not just the Time Inc. ones.

Most recently, 15 British publishers formed a venture to promote their thinking person's magazines that apparently get lost in the crush of titles dealing with less weighty topics.

On a smaller publisher scale, but by no means tiny, Mother Jones is leading the formation of a journalistic co-op to tackle, in an investigative format, climate change—several magazines are sharing reporting resources. AdAge's Simon Dumenco spoke with MoJo co-editor Clara Jeffery about the project and her comments about the partnership can be applied to any area of the publishing business.

"We have complementary audiences, but even the biggest players seem to think they can benefit from having their work introduced to the core audiences of the other partners," she told Dumenco.

And, above all, it's the quickly-changing media world that's driving publishers to seek out ideas and and potential partners:  "Secondly, everybody is really eager to use this as a way to test-drive collaborations, which everybody sees as a vital part of the emerging media landscape. On that front, we'll likely learn as much from what doesn't work as what does."

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Bill Mickey By Bill Mickey -- Bill Mickey is editor of Folio:. Follow him on Twitter: @billmickey

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