Commentary

Publishers Need To Rip Up The Rule Book When Deciding On Digital Content Policy

Last week I wrote pretty critically about Future Publishing’s decision to give away digital editions free with print subscriptions. To recap, my view is that this is old world thinking, that it downplays the importance of digital to the overall brand and that if you need to prop up your print content with a free digital offer, then frankly you have a problem with your overall proposition.

This week, I wanted to contrast that approach with what I see as the refreshing position that Dennis Publishing has taken with The Week.

The Week, which launched in print in 1997, is a digest of the week’s news and opinion. It’s by no means a groundbreaking editorial format but it has a solid ( and growing) print subscription figure of 199459. The important point to note here is that it is purely print. Dennis does not bundle in the digital edition. Indeed, this year they have produced a completely separate ABC figure. The Week has a digital publication circulation of 26,283 subscribers and single-copy purchasers paying to read it each week.

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I’m intrigued that Dennis has taken the view that different platforms mean different business models. Kerin O’ Connor, chief executive of The Week states: “By liberating its evolution, the digital publication is not contained by print metrics and bundled into old structures. The whole point of these new platforms is to try new business models and experiment, not be limited by the past – no matter how successful it has been”

Surely this is the way forward for publishers. I’ll admit that I’ve worked in too many publishers where the declining print product takes up way too much time for the senior management and its decline is the focus rather than the growth of digital. At the start of this year, there was much debate about combined ABC audits of print and digital editions. Personally, I believe that publishers wanted this to hide the fact that the print numbers were falling. And as many offer a free digital subscription to print readers, how much duplication is there.

As publishers we need to move on from the outdated print to digital model. There are still too many media brands slavishly replicating their print brand for a digital audience.

Yes, keep the DNA of the original brand, but don’t produce a clone. It infuriates me to see flat PDF versions of the print ads in digital editions ( The Times is notably guilty here). That’s being pretty unambitious and misses the point of digital platforms. Advertising should be an interactive, exciting and different proposition from its print counterpart. Again, I look to The Week here and see that they sell by platform and not by brand.

It worries me that publishers are missing out on realising the full potential of what should be a golden opportunity. I understand that a certain amount of the blame has to be directed at the newsstand platforms and the somewhat haphazard listing policy but I’d love to see more publishers take the route of The Week. Stick to your guns, don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t be limited by past structures.

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