This week we hear from Stephanie Mehta, CEO & Chief Content Officer of Manseuto Ventures, parent of Inc. and Fast Company. She talks about going from an editorial career to the CEO role, the changes in leadership attitudes to publishing over the last decade, and what the revenue models for Inc. and Fast Company look like post-pandemic. She also explains why print is still important in bringing prestige to the titles.

In the news roundup the team discuss Reach Plc’s latest results and ask why, since it delivered solid profits, did its share price fall by 25%? In the NIBs we ask whether Twitter’s community-focused moderation rollout will be successful, note the hypocrisy of the British government lauding a service it is undercutting at every turn, and ask why we weren’t that impressed with The Financial Times’ 1m paying subscribers. Please do get in touch if you can solve the Reach question!

The transcript will be live here shortly, but for now, here are some highlights:

Transitioning from Editor in Chief to CEO

In some ways, it’s a huge change. And in other ways, it’s a not so huge change. I would say that editors – of business magazines in particular but of all kinds of publications – in the last ten years or so have really had to be a lot more entrepreneurial and business minded.

In my roles at publications over the course of the last three years especially, but going back 10 years, if you’re going to be successful editor, it’s very important to be entrepreneurial. I’ve really had to collaborate with ad sales, with integrated marketing, with direct to consumer. And in that respect, being business minded has been part of my job for for many, many years.

In terms of the actual role of a CEO in many ways, it’s it’s very different. The portfolio of things that are part of my purview has grown tremendously. The size of the staff that I feel responsible for is is much bigger. And so it’s taking the learnings that I’ve had as an editor for the last 25 years and applying some of that wisdom and common sense to a much bigger, bigger portfolio of responsibilities and opportunities.

How the role of Chief Content Officer fits alongside

The role has two parts to it. One is that I’m a backstop to those Editors in Chief. If they need someone to talk about stories with, if they need someone to be a buffer between a source and the company, or an advertiser and their content, I can serve that role because I’ve been an editor and so I’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

And then I think the other reason that we assigned the Chief Content Officer title to me is to signal to the newsrooms that I have permission to have an opinion about the content. I grew up in journalism at a time where the chief executive officers of the media companies weren’t even allowed in the newsrooms. It was verboten for the The CEO to come and talk to journalists. We’re a small organisation, I think we have a different worldview. And so I think we just wanted to let the newsrooms know that I’m an ally, and I’ll be wandering around figuratively and literally, and that I’ll be part of the mix.

Revenue models for Inc. and Fast Company post-Covid

I feel strongly that a lot of our revenue growth will come from producing the kind of journalism that will get readers to want to subscribe to Fast Company and Inc. We’ve seen other media companies have great success by by promoting subscriptions. And so I think, for Fast Company and Inc., for sure, you’re going to see a greater emphasis on on subscriptions and getting readers to pay for the journalism.

We have also had pretty good success with virtual events. And while for me, personally, they’re not as exciting – I don’t retain the information from a virtual event the same way I do from a live event – I feel like there will be a mix of virtual and live going forward, this hybrid model whereby there will be opportunities for people to convene in person, but some of the content may be streamed to audiences

And then the last piece, I would say is, our titles have always had to be really solutions-oriented, when it’s come to serving the needs of our sponsors and underwriters, and I just see that continuing. I don’t see us diminishing the importance of our advertising clients. I think that we’ll just have to be even closer to them and really figure out how to deliver a great experience.

The importance of print at Fast Company and Inc.

For the foreseeable future, each title is scheduled to publish six print issues in 2022. And we will have a conversation every year about whether that is the right number of issues or whether we might need to come down an issue, I think there’s no question that we have to be very realistic about where the readers are.

For a lot of our audiences – readers and sources alike – they still love print. The number is diminishing on the reader side, because we’ve certainly seen a generational shift in readership. But for sure, we’ve seen when we talk to sources about participating in stories, the first question we often get is, “Is this going to be for print? Or is this for digital?” People still want to be on the covers of magazines.

Main story:

Reach announced its full-year results for 2021, with digital ad dividends and 10 million registered users.

  • The company announced an operating profit of £146.1m (up £12.3m).
  • Print had declined by 4.7% (on a like-for-like basis), which is actually a stronger performance than Reach had originally anticipated.
  • The publisher has put huge amounts of work into integrating the print and digital side of the business, and it’s paying off.
  • Digital revenue rose to 24% of Reach’s overall revenue, and they hired 400 new editorial staff last year (half in journalist roles). They also achieved a target of 10 million registered users several months ahead of schedule.
  • Charlotte Tobbit on the Media Podcast says Reach Local sites dominate their lists of fastest growing websites.

But Reach’s share price plunged 25% on Tuesday after warnings of a profit squeeze.

  • The drop wiped about £180m from the company’s market value.
  • The core of the business is declining – print accounts for almost three quarters of overall revenue. Rising newsprint costs, growing distribution costs and supply issues as well as a ‘significant’ increase in energy prices is putting pressure on the business.
  • Chief Executive Jim Mullen said he expected to see a ‘modest’ drop in operating profits for the year: “This is not a profits warning. This is a moderation in profits due to inflation.”
  • This is a silly response from the market, especially considering the sky-high valuations of digital operations that don’t have the revenue or profitability of Reach. All publishing businesses with any hint of print are going to be facing these issues. But to have such a drop when the digital side is going well seems really bizarre, especially given that they’re running an operating profit (unlike others…!)
  • So is this effectively like blood in the water? Is the narrative around local and regional publishers this negative?

News in brief:

  • Twitter is expanding its fact-checking operation, this time to allow users to face-check each others’ tweets. On the face of it this seems like a fantastically stupid idea given that the quality of discourse on Twitter is often on par with a 4am drunken argument in a chip shop but as ever the devil is in the details. Users will find helpful notes appended to tweets that offer context, “ideally” from an authoritative source. They’ll then be asked to rate the note’s helpfulness, ratings that in turn are used to determine whether to continue showing that note to others on Twitter.
  • After (gleefully) more or less announcing the scrapping of the BBC’s Licence fee in a petulant fit over the corporations coverage of her governments party-time antics in January Nadine Dorries appeared to choke up in the Commons as she praised those brave journalists reporting from the Ukrainian war zone. After fighting her own war (the culture war) for weeks she’s now decided that the BBC journalists working with others from ITV and other news outlets who are risking their lives to bring us unbiased and accurate news from a live warzone.
  • The Financial Times has reached one million paying digital subscribers, which makes it the second British title to do so (The Guardian – which doesn’t have a paywall – hit it first in November as a combination of digital subscribers and recurring contributions from supporters). More than half of the FT’s subscribers are outside the UK, and digital journalism revenues now equal all the rest of its revenue streams combined. “The FT is proof that quality journalism can be a quality growth business, and digital journalism can be a quality global business,” said Chief Executive John Ridding.

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