A lesson for traditional publishers everywhere- and perhaps as a knock-on the media jobs market – in the news that the Economist Group has managed to raise pre-tax profits by 9% year-on-year, despite a 17% fall in print advertising revenue for its UK title.
The Economist has been so successful at offsetting the ill effects of the ongoing print advertising storm partly because it’s been prepared to be innovative without jumping on bandwagons. While they’ve embraced tablets and smartphone apps, gaining 10,000 digital subscribers in the process, they’ve resisted the temptation to try and beat rivals in the breaking news game. And, crucially, they’ve managed to grow their digital business without cannibalising print subscriptions. Magazine subscriptions have held steady and print revenue was up 8% despite the advertising slump.
Of course, it can’t hurt that casual interest in economics has been sky high over the last few years, and that the Economist has a generally affluent readership. But it’s also succeeded by flying in the face of print publishing’s received wisdom that in the age of the internet, people want short, punchy, accessible content quickly. For years, magazines have raced to cut word counts and big words alike, oblivious to the fact that readers can get content like that on the internet anywhere. But the Economist’s success shows the opposite, that the publications best placed to survive are those who can provide an authoritative voice and something of substance to their readers, without underestimating them. Denser, longer-form articles still work better in print than online, and the Economist looks good on coffee tables. A bit of humour helps too (see left). A lesson for magazine publishers everywhere, if they’re prepared to heed it.