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The Media Company of Tomorrow: One Executive’s Take

F+W Media CEO David Nussbaum ponders the future of print, online, more.


Tony Silber By Tony Silber
11/06/2009 -14:37 PM






One of our keynote presentations at the virtual FOLIO: Show Virtual last week included a panel of leading executives in the industry, including F+W Media CEO David Nussbaum.

Nussbaum gave one of the most provocative responses during the hour-long discussion, essentially saying that print advertising is an irrevocably declining source of revenue, and that companies that don’t recognize that do so at their own risk.

As it turns out, Nussbaum jotted down some notes to the questions I asked the panelists to consider in advance. Here are Nussbaum’s notes, with the questions that prompted his thoughts.

Q: When will the industry see some recovery?
A: This is totally unclear, but there is a sense that we have found the bottom of the market. However, with consumers still under siege (credit difficulties, high unemployment, no or low salary increases), it is hard to see what the impetus will be for growth.

Q: What will the recovery look like?
A: I don’t think it will be ad driven. But rather, we’ll see an expansion of marketing budgets looking for “non-traditional ways to reach buyers.” That will mean everything from custom content solutions, to one-to-one marketing, and expanding our portfolio around our core brands to create new, profitable products and subscription services, like Webinars, which are a growing part of our business.

Q: Will we see the robust industry health of 2005 to 2006 again?
A: I really don’t know.

Q: How will the business be different going forward?
A: In a few ways.    

1. Print advertising will continue to be a no growth-to-declining business.
2. Events will rebound, but event producers will need to find a way to mitigate the high costs of exhibiting.
3. High quality and unique content, always at a premium, will be even more important as the Holy Grail of dollars for content will become even more intense.
4. Staff size will be kept lean, with those making it through the recession owning a wider variety of skill sets than those who came before. We need to be bringing new talent to the industry from outside our standard recruitment channels, and producing new ideas across e-commerce, retail, social media. There’s no limit to what we can learn.
5. Online advertising rates will continue to erode, but engagement will be at a premium.
6. Social networks, location-based marketing, custom content selection—these will all be critical for future media providers. And those who aren’t already building their communities may get left behind.

Q: Are media companies being disintermediated on the reader side through social media and blogs?
A: Yes and no. Yes in that there is much more competition for community building, for content presentation and for lead generation. No in that media companies are becoming strong participants in the blogosphere and in using social networks to both build community and drive traffic to sell stuff. F+W and other enthusiast media companies have a unique advantage in that our communities already exist, created around a common interest or goal. Being of and in the community, and respected and trusted though our own blogs, positions us well. Social media interactions are the key.

Q:
What are the most important things media companies can do now? Adjust organizational structure? Change their approach to content creation? Layoffs? Debt reduction?    
A: Media companies need to find a way to focus as vertically as possible, make community building the core of existence, ensure that staff is cross-trained, fleet of mind,  and willing to adapt to radical change comfortably. Portfolio management is critical. Organize your resources around the core communities and properties with the most opportunity for success.

Q: What will the media company of 2012 look like?
A: Community focused, really good at demographic analysis, excellent at nurturing around verticals, diverse in terms of product offerings and delivery systems, Web centric, advertising will be considered gravy, customers pay for content and contribute to the creation of content.

Q: What is the most important lesson og the 2007-2009 recession?
A: The sheer desire of people to adapt and to participate in tomorrow. I have really been impressed with the willingness of people to learn and to change.

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