Digital Publishing Guest Columns
4 mins read

Publishers need to pivot to digital adoption before it’s too late

Consumer spending data recently released from Barclays bank showed that just before the second national lockdown hit, consumer spending in October fell by 0.1 percent year on year. Digital content and subscriptions bucked the trend – with sales jumping by 32.3%. 

This evidence highlights the necessity for publishers to have a digital strategy and diversified distribution plan for their titles. The context of this being rather obvious – consumers have, because of lockdown restrictions, changed their consumption habits in order to continue accessing the newspapers and magazines they may have previously bought at retail. Usage trends initiated or accelerated during the pandemic, according to a recent Deloitte study, are likely to mould consumer behaviours for years to come. 

The growth in digital consumption is by no means new, and as it’s grown in proportion to physical print the question of cannibalisation often arises. The rapid consumer shifts towards digital driven by lockdown will hopefully create an irresistible incentive to publishers, who were previously reluctant, to embrace digital with both hands. Publishers who might have held off investing in digital, or who were merely dipping their toe in the water, should now be considering a jump head first in order to stay connected with audiences.

In all fairness to publishers, big shifts in distribution strategy don’t happen overnight, and should instead take place through rational considered planning. However we did see incredible shifts from some publishers in the previous lockdown, where entire business models that would normally take years to change, pivoted in a matter of weeks. 

Time Out is an interesting example of speedy rebranding, as they launched ‘Time In’ and shifted to digital-only for the first time since launch in London, 1968. A decision made necessary as lockdown kept their important commuter audience away from offices and not able to pick up a copy on their day-to-day. We also saw Stylist, one of the only other major free-to-distribute magazines left in the UK, temporarily stop print production entirely, moving to digital only. 

Fortunately for the publishers behind both of these titles they had already built up a strong and loyal brand following which they could appeal to in their new formats. Credit to both of them for their bravery to make such a rapid shift towards digital.

At the same time though there has been sombre news in the publishing industry with furloughing, redundancies, and wage cuts so we shouldn’t forget the casualties that are bound to happen when industries shift so rapidly.

The data from Barclays also reveals to us that in spite of all this the consumer need to access content is not only still present, but represents an area where there is potential for huge growth that can be capitalised on. Lockdown created potential opportunities for publishing to reach new customers. Many companies in sectors heavily impacted by the lockdown are looking for digital content options as means to add value for either employees or their customers where previously they would have favoured physical events or products. 

During 2020 we’ve seen an increasing interest from companies looking to either add digital value to their own products or reward employees with something that doesn’t require any physical interaction or delivery, i.e. magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

Publishing is valued as a means of keeping people connected with their personal interests, helping them to create more informed opinions of events in the world. If one outcome to all this is that more organisations want to add meaningful value to either their customers or employees and in turn they help bring new audiences to magazines and newspapers then this is a small silver lining to the covid cloud.

Publishers should be embracing digital streaming platforms. They help to tap into new audiences, diversify revenue streams, reduce exposure to ad-revenue fluctuations and ensure their businesses are more resilient to economic headwinds. None of us want to see publishing in turmoil. We’re in this together to support and nurture an important societal benefit.

Dan Ison, Lead Partner for Telecommunications, Media and Entertainment at Deloitte said in the same report referenced at the top of this piece that, “In time, advertising revenues will build again, but it will be subscription revenues which provide publishers with the resilience they so badly need in the months ahead.”

And I think he’s right. Covid-19 has accelerated the case for digital subscriptions, and publishers who adapt quickly will have a better chance of coming out on top. 

Blaise Keen
Country Manager UK, Cafeyn

Cafeyn‘s ambition, driven by a deep passion for the media, has been to reconnect readers to the content that is relevant to them through an ultra-high-performance platform. Drawing on its accumulated expertise and a network of 500+ publishers and strategic distribution partners (telecom operators, pay-TV, e-commerce platforms, etc.), the platform today offers more than 2,500 titles accessible on all digital devices. 

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