Digital Publishing
5 mins read

How four independent publishers are diversifying to strengthen their businesses

Ahead of the Making Publishing Pay event in February, Carolyn Morgan explores how four independent publishers are innovating, from intelligence products to international membership propositions.

B2B intelligence platforms as a new revenue stream

Healthcare Business International has been serving the private healthcare sector for a decade with paid newsletters, an online database and a major conference for healthcare operators and investors in Europe and emerging markets.

In June 2018 Max Hotopf (Founder) and Julian Turner (CEO) decided to change the business model. This involved the decision to morph nine products into 4 membership levels. This made sales and marketing far easier and more explicable with the goal of higher renewal rates.

They also decided to provide an ambitious business intelligence platform, HBI Intelligence, covering all private healthcare market sectors across EMEA. This consists of a series of reports which link to the online database showing company revenues enabling the user to look at market share, market size, growth and trends by sector and country.

The company was fortunate in having a strong relationship with a great freelancer programmer in the USA. The visual designs were developed inhouse.

Their editorial team researched some of the main sector gaps. And then in November 2018 after just 4 months development, the new HBI product went live to customers with those who subscribed to the newsletters and online database. To begin with they didn’t ask for a price hike, waiting till customers came up to renewal to offer three different packages.

Already they have paid back their modest investment in technology development in new membership revenue.

The product is evolving as it is used by customers, adding new features and new content. “Once you have an Intelligence platform it is easy to gradually add more useful stuff which makes the product more attractive to more people,” said Julian.

So if you haven’t got the budget of a large corporate media business to invest in a data product, this is a good example of how to create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and build a premium subscription product on a shoestring.

Julian and Max are contributing to a workshop session on “How to build a data product” at Making Publishing Pay in London, 25-26 February.

Growing international membership propositions from awards

The British Journal of Photography has been inspiring photographers for over 160 years and is on the reading list for the majority of photography students.  Their website attracts 1.7m visitors a year and they have an international following on social media of over 1 million.

In the last few years, the parent company, 1854 Media, have developed a series of international photography award competitions, including Portrait of Humanity, Portrait of Britain and Female in Focus, which have attracted 90,000 paid submissions from 15,000 photographers from 118 countries.

This prompted the launch in April 2019 of a membership programme for aspiring photographers, 1854 Access, which combines the magazine (digital and print) with free entries to awards and access to paid commissions from commercial partners.

In just a few months they acquired 2500 paying members, of whom half are outside the UK, and 40% digital-only.  These are a highly engaged group, with 50% entering an award and open rates on member communications of 80%. 

Whilst digital-only membership packages are growing at a faster rate, the absolute volume of print packages is also growing, and are equally profitable.  By January 2020, they expect to have grown to 4000 members.

CEO Marc Hartog is now highly focussed on growing the number of new Access members, converting existing subscribers to membership, and creating more opportunities for members to engage with each other.

Marc will be sharing what he has learned about creating a membership proposition and using international reach in a session at Making Publishing Pay in February.

Turning print around to build a global B2B media business

In 2012, Neil Thackray and Rory Brown, co-founders of TheMediaBriefing website and events, acquired two rather unloved print titles, Farmers Guardian and Pulse from UBM for £10m.  A couple of years later they had divested media and medical activities to focus exclusively on the huge agribusiness sector. Their strategy of growing Farmers Guardian by moving to membership, acquiring and launching events and adding in data services paid off, with a big hike in revenues and profits.

In the next three years, they made three big acquisitions in international agricultural data services:  Agrimoney, FeedInfo and Urner Barry. This has taken the AgriBriefing Group up the B2B value chain into high value, global, subscription-driven information businesses.

Group revenues are now approaching £30m, with half coming from outside the UK and over half from subscriptions.  Margins are high and the audience is close to half a million agricultural professionals worldwide. According to media commentator Colin Morrison, that adds up to a valuation of £150m – not bad in less than a decade.

I spent the better part of an afternoon listening to CEO Rory Brown explain his philosophy of how to build value in B2B media, how they pushed the Farmers Guardian team to think bigger, and how they stalked and won a series of acquisitions, then systematically added value to each new business.

The AgriBriefing story is shaped in part by its sequence of private equity backers, each of whom are focused on backing the management team to grow the value of the business over what is typically a 3-5 year time horizon.  That obviously encouraged the team to focus on growth at pace – both organically and via a series of strategically important acquisitions in sectors of the market dominated by subscription revenue, unique IP ownership and, increasingly, agricultural commodity price discovery services.  But the approach they took could apply to media businesses operating at a slightly less breakneck speed.

Rory will be talking about what the team did to get Agribriefing to this position at Making Publishing Pay in London, 25-26 February.

Reinvigorating events and connecting with audiences to stay relevant

Travel Trade Gazette was launched in 1953 as a weekly newspaper for travel agents. And perhaps surprisingly, given the growth of online travel, the print edition is still valued by its audience and supported by advertisers.

Six years ago, then editor Daniel Pearce bought out TTG from media conglomerate UBM. The new indie publishing business, TTG Media, set about relaunching the website and reinvigorating its events. And in the last six years, revenues have doubled.

When we spoke to Daniel, he emphasised the importance of focussing on niches within the travel trade, and then designing events that solve problems for them. For example, the TTG New To Cruise Festival which provides travel agents who have never sold cruises with the information and skills to be successful.

TTG has also been a champion of the LGBT+ community in travel, launching conferences to promote diversity in the industry. And they have launched a string of events in the luxury travel sector, building on their success of the quarterly ttgluxury magazine.

Daniel is a strong believer in talking to customers, and recently invested significantly in research among travel agents, to ensure TTG products stay relevant.

The TTG site is free, but requires registration, and is moving towards personalising content.

Each of these publishers will be speaking at Making Publishing Pay on 25th-26th February in London. What’s New in Publishing are media partners for the event.