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5 things the media needs to get good at

June 11, 2011
Counting to 5

Courtesy of

As the media landscape changes ever faster, companies have to adapt to survive. Here are 5 areas that will shape the media business in future.

1. Product development – People are getting their news in increasingly different ways, and there’s a new device every few years for companies to get their heads around. A company that can’t build and tweak products quickly, efficiently and smartly is going to be left behind.

If your company doesn’t have a good process for generating ideas, then bringing them to market, it’s going to lose out to companies that do.

Just look at how tech companies like Google and Facebook have out-manoeuvered and sometimes displaced completely areas that have traditionally belonged to publishers.

2. Data – Both for their readers (eg database journalism) and of their readers (eg targetting ads and content). Publishers have to be able to give readers the content they’re after, and advertisers the readers they’re after, to survive in an age where search engines and social networks watch every word you type.

3. Research and Analytics – Part of giving customers what they want is knowing what they want. Publishers need to collect as much data on how people use their products as they can, through both web tracking and surveys.  That’s the best way to make their products better, and when your product is increasingly only one of many ways to get what the customer is after, having this info is key. That means investing in the technology and staff to gather and interpret the information.

4. Marketing services – SEO, Social media, web marketing strategies – online publishers have had to get good in these areas. And they’re all areas where most normal businesses don’t have a clue.

That’s why a wide range of publishers – including niche ones like IDG, and also big ones like Conde Nast and The Tribune Group – have started their own divisions to meet these needs. Publishers are already the first point of call for many of these business, and they’re best placed to sell these types of services.

Publishers can leverage what they’re good at – online advertising – to create a whole new revenue stream. If they don’t, a middleman will jump in, and publishers will have a hard time catching up in an increasingly specialised area.

5. Failure – It’s still a dirty word in much of the publishing world, because publishers are usually large public corporations that use business models suitable for large public corporations. There’s not a lot of experimenting being done at most companies because it’s expensive, has uncertain rewards, and may end up damaging the existing business. CEOs at big companies generally won’t take risks until they’re forced to.

Experimentation and failure are inherent to a startup, but it’s a hard mentality for many corporate types to understand. Very few managers are encouraged to fail, and in an area that’s moving as fast as online publishing, that’s actually a big problem.

These companies won’t take the risks necessary to get into emerging spaces.

Revenues from traditional media are declining, and they’ll keep declining for a while yet. The way out isn’t to manage that decline, it’ s to develop new ways of funding high-quality content.

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