As many of the industry’s vital signs continue to improve, the mood of the industry has changed again from previous years’ surveys as visibility improves and as both the challenges and opportunities become clearer.
Improving vital signs
- Turnover growth continues, but this is significantly faster in B2B than in consumer, which remains volatile
- More companies are profitable and margins are edging up
- Headcount is rising again, but in many fewer companies than those showing turnover growth and profitability – more is being squeezed out of the existing staff resource
- Marketing budgets are also continuing to grow, but are clearly being spread more thinly across an increasing number of channels and activities
- Publisher confidence levels are rising, although there is still a very wide range from company to company
Changes in the mood of the industry
There are some subtle, but significant changes showing in this year’s survey.
There is a shift in focus from external threats to internal challenges – resources, IT, staff, company culture and structure. The upside of this is that, rather than feeling hostages to fortune, there is a stronger sense that the industry has more control over shaping its own future.
There are fewer big themes. Last year, there were perceived to be some dominant opportunities and priorities – mobile, video, social, ecommerce, and international. All of these factors are still present, but individual companies are clearly developing their own specific and tailored “to do lists”. The industry seems to be picking out the appropriate tools from the toolbox for the jobs in hand, acknowledging that there are different business models for different situations and for different markets.
Increasing competition is a recurring message. As one respondent put it: “We used to be able to describe our “competitors” as a defined set of rival publishers. Now, the more things we do, the more competition we create for ourselves….content marketers, etailers, blogs, social media, etc., etc. Now the whole world seems to be our competition!”
More focus on what works now. There is a subtle shift from the dominant focus being on doing “new things” towards making the old things work better. This is partly because the funky new stuff is taking longer to deliver a hard return on investment; partly because some of the old legacy activities – print included – look to have more life and value in them than was felt to be the case a year or two ago. They may need some serious overhauls, but they provide a robust platform for the future.
There is clearly a growing debate about the pros and cons of scale in a digital world, which is driven by both size and one-to-one interactions at the same time. Some small publishers feel that they have agility and speed, but lack the resources to make an impact. Some large publishers state that they are inflexible and slow to change, yet have assets they can leverage and the scale to invest and take a long view. That trade-off looks to be being debated in every publishing organisation at the moment.
Visibility. Control. Quality.
These three words capture the mood of the industry at the moment.
- Visibility. If the last few years have felt like driving at high speed through thick fog, the twists and forks in the road are now becoming easier to pick out. That does not make the decisions any easier, but the insight to make those choices and the tools to execute them are more readily to hand. Both the opportunities and challenges are clearer than they ever have been.
- Control. The business seems more aware of what needs to be done in order to survive and prosper. So, everything feels more under the industry’s own control rather than being on the receiving end of external trends.
- Quality. In addition, there appears to be a greater confidence in the quality of the industry’s core assets – content, communities, knowledge and skills – and a belief that “quality will out.”
Yet all this means a bold commitment to the long game. And that is the biggest challenge facing every publisher, large or small, for the next few years. As one CEO put it: “We’ve made our best assessment of what we think we need to do. We’ve invested in that and we’re beginning to see a return on that investment…not as fast or as big as we’d like. But we know that this is a long game. We’re investing in quality. And quality will win.”
Methodology and sample
This is the sixth annual Publishing Futures benchmarking project polling the views of publishers across a wide range of commercial areas. The Professional Publishers Association (PPA) commissioned Wessenden Marketing to create and manage an online self-completion questionnaire. Targeted emails were sent to senior executives within publishing companies who then completed the survey. The fieldwork for the project ran from October to December 2014. InPublishing was the media partner, pooling its contacts for the research sample. 86 questionnaires, with an equal split between Consumer and B2B operations, were received and analysed.
For the full report, contact Nicola Rowe at PPA with enquiries.
For more details on the survey process and structure, contact Jim Bilton.