6 rules of survival for publishers


Call this an idiot’s guide. We live in a world where survival is trickier than ever. It’s demoralising to see industry peers go under. But it’s thrilling to see those that can make it work.

There seems to be a formula. I’m not sure I’ve found it, but perhaps it comes down to a common thread of six simple survival principles that define the new world we live in as publishers. And although it feels like old news, the irony is that these principles only emerged within the past couple of years.

The way I see it, they are as follows:

  • Content is king. These three words have been buzzing like unrelenting tinnitus since the world started going crazy with digital platform diversification and the commoditisation of news.

    We’re in the content business, always have been. But more than ever, our consumers are demanding extra value and more unique content, or a uniquely convenient content-providing service. But it’s increasingly difficult to monetise this great content. Consumers want quality and quantity, depth and dimension, speed and service — and they want it for free. 

    Content marketing, social media, search engine optimisation, and search engine marketing are luring readers directly to the horse’s mouth without the need to check out the horse itself or place a bet. As a result, the content is reduced to a quick and cheap nibble, and customers don’t always remember the hand that fed it, nor feel the need for another bite. Hence, the next principle is key.

  • Build stronger brands. In a world of information snippets and sharing, clear brand ownership of valued, unique, and specialised content or services drives eyeballs to a realm of revenue and control.

    What’s the suction power of your brand? Is it consistent? Do your customers love you and are they loyal? In a world full of free content, brand loyalty is hard to come by, yet also the one factor that will decide our fate.

    Building brand loyalty — when only small, flirtatious bites are being consumed — requires the placement of addictive and connective content and pointers in your landing pages, driving the compulsion for more bites.

    Capturing personal data of those who visit, to allow future marketing opportunities, is also vital, but extremely difficult. South China Morning Post’s Web site draws 10% of its traffic from social media, compared to 30% from organic search, and only 35% direct (typing in our URL).

    The key is to satisfy the snacking customers enough to make them come again for a regular meal.

  • Be social. We keep hearing about the need to be social. Twitter, Fark, Reddit, Weibo, Facebook, Google+, videos, bloggers galore — the list keeps growing.

    Sure, being social is de rigueur for spreading the news. But is getting your news out via social media adding value to your brand when your 30 seconds of fame is followed by the reader not remembering where they read it?

    On top of that, it’s important to realise that being social is more than just spreading your content on social platforms. Being social is also about helping your customers stay in tune with what’s trending on the social networks, in your own site and blogospheres, and letting your readers know what they might be missing.

    It’s about creating shareable content, whether it’s videos, features, blogs, or images. It’s about re-sharing what’s already being widely shared, to your own sphere of influence. Quite often, jumping on a viral bandwagon can bring in a quick and cheap high in terms of pageviews, although what you do with the fleeting visitors thereafter is the key to maximising the value to your brand.

    In short, to be social, we have to act sociably.

  • Anywhere, anytime, any platform. We used to live in a print-first world. Many of us still do, because that’s where the advertising money still rings the tills.

    Then came the digital-first strategy, and most of us are still re-organising our newsrooms around 24/7 operations.

    Then it’s mobile-first, because people are on the move, and news isn’t news unless it’s fast. But fast is only as fast as you can keep up with where the readers are.

    Our world seems so much busier than it used to be. Our platform usage and number of devices for access has diversified, and our needs and expectations as news consumers are much greater. These days, it’s anytime, anywhere; news-on-demand when readers want to lean-back, news push when they need or want to lean forward, and news everywhere, even when you aren’t looking for it, because we’re hyper-social beings, too.

  • Diversify revenue sources. Across the world, publishers are trying to diversify revenue sources, but few are able to replace lost print revenue, despite considerably more work being done.

    The different areas that have worked best for South China Morning Post include revamping existing print products, creating new ones that target new topics and targets, and building more advertiser-conducive environments.

    Also successful: creating events based on our core subject and brand competencies; expanding content and applications on mobile devices with more regularly updated content to maximise impressions (now one-third of our consumers are accessing our content via mobile or tablet devices); taking on contract printing work (making money from other newspapers from the downtime on our presses); and providing marketing solutions and services for our advertisers leveraging our areas of expertise.

  • Diversify skill sets. Re-training and expanding responsibilities is an agonising but exciting transition period.

    For sure, it’ll be an uncomfortable period of adjustment for most companies as we sift the tough from the rough. But in the new media economy, we can’t survive without being able to multi-task and grow our skill sets, at least as an interim measure until we figure out what dedicated manpower is needed to fully support viable business and editorial models.

    Whether it means our existing journalists double up as bloggers and event moderators, or our creative department rapidly trains up from doing print ads to digital banners and videos, we’re being required to grow organically and make 1 + 1 = 10.

So there are your six rules. I’m sure someone is out there checking this and thinking, “Hey, what about the seventh and eighth rule of survival?”

Well, bring it on! I’m happy to hear what the consensus is.

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