Books: print media’s last stand

Quite rightly, there was a celebratory air to last week’s IPG conference. While the trend for most media sectors is reported as gloomy, book sales have been consistently growing for the last few years.

Tougher than they look

According to Mintel, 74% of Brits bought or read / listened to a book in 2016/17. The Publishers Association reported record sales of books and journals in the same period, rising to £4.8bn. Sales in both print and digital categories are up – with print consumption massively dominating the UK market (around 90% of copy sales).

So why are print books (more…)

What are the opportunities for a digital only NME?

Another week, another print closure. Or, to put it in the euphemistic terms of the press releases: Another week, another refocusing on digital strengths.

Old and not-so-express

The New Musical Express (NME) is shuttering its print operation after a much-publicised move to a free distribution model in summer 2015 which was designed to boost the magazine’s attractiveness to advertisers through an increase in circulation. In the announcement, Time Inc’s UK group managing director Paul Cheal explained that industry-wide falling print ad spend despite the increase had been the final straw for the print operation:

“Unfortunately we have now reached a point where the free weekly magazine is no longer financially viable. It is in the digital space where effort and investment will focus to secure a strong future for this famous brand.”

Whether the NME’s digital presence is strong enough to survive without significant cost savings is unclear. For starters, it faces (more…)

ITV and WPP – similar problems, similar solutions

Shares in both ITV and WPP have fallen dramatically following their latest results. In both cases, this can be put down to the habitual complacency of a market leader. Neither business has been quick enough to restructure, nor trail-blazing in its digital offering. Neither have understood the major threats to their businesses through the duopoly of Google and Facebook.

Looking up?

So while there are obvious similarities in the business failings, the stories at the top of the businesses differ markedly. WPP is still helmed by its leader of 32 years, Martin Sorrell. ITV, after years of Adam Crozier’s stewardship, has a new CEO in Carolyn McCall.

McCall, the former CEO of the Guardian, has most recently been running EasyJet. She has seen advertising as both seller and buyer, and has hands-on experience of the value of data in her last role. As Simon English points out in the Standard, McCall is (more…)

At last, good news for the entertainment retail industry

In a recent blog, we looked at the threat Brexit represents to the future of the UK creative industries, focusing mainly on the games industry – and for a very good reason: the UK games retail market is now a £3.35bn industry, its sales now almost equal to that of home sales for music and video combined.

Music, video and games sales are rising

But this blog perhaps missed the wider, refreshingly positive story about the state of the entertainment market as a whole.  For many years, reports have suggested


YouTube and ‘fake news’: The end of algorithm opacity?

There’s a predictable rhythm to the online aftermath of any sort of mass shooting. After the initial outpouring of sympathy and grief, you can expect the media coverage to turn to the reactions of the alt-right, both through morbid curiosity and a genuine attempt to explain how conspiracy theories get disseminated online. As sure as The Onion publishes its savage takedown of the Republican response to mass shootings, you can expect the exposés of reddit’s r/The_Donald subreddit to follow.

Things were no different in the immediate aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentines Day. Members of the alt-right immediately began espousing the idea that some of the teenagers caught up in the incident were so-called ‘crisis actors’, and that the entire incident had been staged in order to promote a pro-gun control agenda. And regular as clockwork, the newspapers began reporting on that, too. What was different about their response this time was that most of the coverage was of the means by which the theories were spread rather than the theories themselves, and commenters zeroed in on one particular vector for the misinformation: YouTube. The Register’s Kieren McCarthy said: (more…)

How do you cover a problem like Facebook?

It has been [0] days since a media analyst wrote about Facebook.

Back when I was news editor for TheMediaBriefing, we had an editorial matrix designed to ensure we wrote about the different topics which our segmented audiences were most interested in. It was carefully constructed, with the sort of care you might take over a house of cards or a matchstick model, so that B2B, B2C, digital pureplays, platforms and the like all got equal prominence on the homepage. We were extremely proud of it, and it was useful to keep in mind at all times as we strove to grow our audience.

And it was largely pointless because any given story, whether it was a B2C story or an events-led story or a good old piece of financial analysis, could and would get bumped by Facebook updating its algorithm and turning digital publishing on its head every week.

If you squint, the way in which Facebook could upend the publishing strategy of a B2B media publisher like TheMediaBriefing was a microcosm of what it has been doing to the wider industry since at least 2015 and probably even earlier. The best laid plans would be rendered moot by whichever new switch the social network decided to flick that particular week. The difference was that TMB was events drive, so at least we weren’t at as great threat of having our major source of income turned off as a result.

As a hangover of the old editorial matrix mindset, however, lately in these articles I have attempted not to write about Facebook every week, even though these is more than enough material to do just that. In  freelancing for other publications and on the Media Voices podcast, which by design is much more reactionary, though, I still find myself covering Facebook each week more often than not. Having done so for the past few months, I have come to a conclusion that honestly I wish I had enforced at TMB: It is impossible to cover Facebook as a media analyst in any sort of meaningful way week-to-week. (more…)

Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers: Death, taxes and media consolidation

When news broke last week that Express Newspapers and its titles the Daily Express, the Daily Star and their Sunday editions were back up for sale, the sense I had was that the other shoe had finally dropped. The only linked buyer, Trinity Mirror, had been in talks with Richard Desmond’s media empire-ette about the acquisition three years ago, only for the discussions to collapse over a dispute about pensions.

Although a Trinity Mirror spokesman hedged about the exact date the £127m takeover bid would go through, saying “there’s still some way to go. This is not yet a done deal”, the reality is that those titles, plus celebrity title OK! magazine, will almost certainly be helping to prop up Trinity Mirror’s business very shortly (Friday if you believe the reports). There’s too much synergy between the two companies’ strengths and their needs for it to be otherwise.

Trinity Mirror (which happens to also be in the news this week for another, less savoury reason) still needs to make savings. At the same time it is very keen to expand its portfolio and create a genuine national-to-local appeal to advertisers, as can be seen by its acquisition of regional newspaper group Local World. And just as with Local World, a big part of the appeal of the Northern & Shell assets is that it can conduct significant backroom synergy while retaining the coverage and scale. (more…)

Managing expectations in an age of overblown media valuations

You could argue that the most important skill of any media leader is the ability to temper expectations. Everyone’s constantly looking for the next unicorn, and as soon as some hot new thing appears suddenly everyone’s on the accelerator and nobody’s on the brakes. The next step is typically a sky-high valuation and successive rounds of VC investment – followed by a tepid or downright chilly response when the property takes longer than expected to find its feet or fails to deliver a return.

Look at what happened with Mashable, which sold for a fifth of its Spring 2016 valuation of $250m at the end of last year, and which had staked its fortune on the ability to reach a generalist audience at huge scale. When it sold to Ziff Davis in a “fire sale” price in December, much of the analysis was around why the publisher’s earlier valuation was so outsized.

In an article on the phenomenon, which includes suggestions that VICE and BuzzFeed are having the same problem on a smaller scale, the New Statesman’s Jasper Jackson argues:

“It’s those expectations – which treat media companies more like tech companies – that take the gloss off relatively successful outfits.”

Nor is the phenomenon reserved for brand new media companies. In this age of transition, even legacy properties can receive huge amounts of hype when it launches a new product or pivots to the medium du jour. As my Media Voices co-host Peter Houston mentioned on last week’s episode, David Pemsel’s challenge with the Guardian now isn’t finding new sources of revenue – it’s managing the expectation that it will break even next year, as was enthusiastically foretold last week. Failure to do so would cast a pall over not just the idea of the Guardian’s sustainability, but the ability of legacy organisations to sustain themselves at scale through membership.

Most media analysts have lived through plenty of similar hype cycles. Despite that, because this is an industry where means of production and distribution are shaken up or disrupted so rapidly, we’re all still prone to hype up new forms of media because we want to believe there are solutions out there. I can still remember being certain that Circa’s constantly updating form of news publishing would herald a new dawn for news consumption, and look how that turned out.

The latest media hype bubble to burst might be that of the chatbot. As Wired’s Erin Griffith and Tom Simonite put it, in an article titled ‘Facebook’s virtual assistant M is dead. So are chatbots‘: (more…)

How Brexit uncertainty threatens the future of UK creative industries

Last week, it was reported that there are more unfilled job vacancies than ever before in the British economy. As of November 2017, there were  810,000 unfilled vacancies in the UK – an increase of 60,000 on the previous year.

For all employers, that deserves a moment of reflection. But for employers of highly skilled workers, such as programmers, the current situation threatens to become a crisis as uncertainty over the direction of Brexit creeps in.

Global Talent Competitiveness Index.

The challenge of attracting talent to the UK is underlined by the latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), which shows the UK has dropped from 3rd place in 2017, to 8th place this year.  The rumours and uncertainty surrounding our future relationship with the European union are evidently making the UK a less attractive place to work.


The Guardian relaunch underlines insignificance of print

The lack of noise – positive or negative – about the relaunch of the tabloid Guardian last week underlines just how irrelevant print is becoming to the newspaper market.

Tabloid, but not a tabloid.

Of course, it is also true that The Guardian is the last of the broadsheets – other than the Telegraph, which it seems will go to its grave in the larger format – to go tabloid or abandon print altogether. And given the perilous finances of the newspaper’s owners, GMG, this shift has been seen as inevitable after 13 years of the paper’s ruinously costly Berliner format (GMG made losses before exceptional items of £45m on turnover of £214m last year).

But the figures speak for themselves. Only 20% of the (more…)