sajeeda merali

This week we hear from Sajeeda Merali, CEO of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA). We talked about what her publishing background brings to the organisation, what’s top-of-mind for the publishers the association represents as the effects of the pandemic rumble on, and what defines a magazine publisher today.

In the news round-up we discuss The Atlantic making 165 years worth of its journalism available online, and which other publishers are making good use of their archives. For the news in brief, we explore a dubious business move from Google, Conde Nast’s print magazine success, and The Information’s new social network.

Here are some highlights:

Publishers’ focus rebuilding from the pandemic

The topic of hybrid working is coming up a lot. I don’t think anyone has really got into a perfect rhythm on that one, ourselves included. I’ve not heard of anyone telling me, ‘We’ve absolutely nailed it.’ So that’s definitely still an issue.

Just reflecting I suppose on some of the other points as well, if a pandemic wasn’t enough, we’ve now got new things to be dealing with. We’ve got the war in Ukraine, supply chain challenges for some of those that are working in the print space. The percentage increases has been absolutely phenomenal around; access to paper printing costs, all of those things as well.

So I think that with the whole cost of living crisis, there is a real feeling of actually, batten down the hatches and make some early decisions around how we’re going to plan out for the next few months. And obviously, talent flows into that as well, talent acquisition, retention.

What a magazine publisher looks like today

Even those that call themselves magazine publishers are pretty multi platform. I think it’s always worth revisiting what we actually mean when we say magazine. Fun fact is the word magazine actually originates from an Arabic word, maḵzin and ḵazana, which is a storehouse or to store up. It was often used to describe stores of books for certain groups of people.

So if what we mean by the word magazine is the business is creating, curating, providing expert content, trusted content in various formats for specialist groups, then, absolutely, we’re magazines, right? But if what we mean by magazine is that it’s a printed product that you pick up on a newsstand when you’re visiting the supermarket or WH Smith or whatever it is, no, not anymore.

I don’t think many of our members have been that for a very long time. So I would say that we just need to go back a step to answer that question.

Representing lots of different types of publisher

If we look across the membership, we’ve got a real array of businesses. You’ve got the more traditional publishing businesses, magazine businesses as we think about them. And you’ve got those at the other end, which are completely driven by data strategies, some make their money through advertising, either through subscriptions, and selling their content, most of them doing a bit of both. You have those work in the consumer space, or in business media. So it’s a real broad variety.

For us, it’s really stepping back again. We could really get bogged down in how people identify, and what you’re calling yourself, are you are a publisher or are you a Martech business, but ultimately, the thing that really binds our membership together is – it goes back to what I said earlier – about the the origin of the word. All of our members regardless of where they put themselves, regardless of however they identify, they’re all providing trusted content and services for specialist communities.

It’s really difficult for any organisation to be everything to everyone all of the time. So when we’re building out our different programmes, we’re always thinking about,  are we giving enough value to our different groups of members? We’re obsessing about putting member value at the core of everything we do.

Prioritising diversity and inclusion

It’s really important to remember that diversity and inclusion is obviously not just an HR problem, or people thing. Of course it’s related to talent, and it’s related to creating that sense of belonging and inclusion. And that obviously has an effect on retention as well. But it goes much further than that.

I mentioned people, product, audiences are three pillars. If you think about the product, and how members are thinking about their product, are websites accessible? Are the events accessible? What sort of voices are we promoting on the different platforms?

On the audience front, we’ve got a really unique position [as publishers] to directly have an effect on the wider population, and making sure that our images, our voices, who we’re asking for commentary, how we’re measuring it, these are all considerations for both large and small publishers. I think there is a role here for us all just to come together and really drive it forward. And that’s going to help amplify all the work that members are doing individually as well.

Main story:

The Atlantic has just made 165 years worth of its journalism available online.

  • They haven’t just dumped all the content they’ve produced since 1857 in one big folder. The whole archive is fully searchable and they have also taken the time to surface interesting articles, issues and writers.
  • This is a good idea – in part because it suggests that papers of record at least are trying to make internet content more permanent. We all know about link rot and, even if the vast majority of the internet is rotting away slowly, at least this will provide some permanence for valuable information and context.
  • Repackaging archive content well takes some investment, but giving your greatest hits another spin is a powerful way to squeeze a bit more value from the content assets you have built up.
  • Rolling Stone’s digital director Charlotte Cijffers recently told Media Voices that archives are one of the most powerful, but also most neglected publisher tools for growing audiences.
  • DC Thomson did it with their Pass It On podcast featuring household tips from the 1950s, and Esquire Classic is another brilliant example.
  • Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post sells collectible NFTs from their 118 year old archive. Its first collection was the ‘1997 Premium Series’ featuring 1,000 ‘boxes’ of the newspaper’s coverage of 1997’s momentous events. The entire collection sold out in 2 hours in March, making the publisher £100,000.

News in brief:

  • It’s been a bad week or two for Google. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the week that the search and advertising giant was proposing to split its buy- and sell-sides for digital advertising up, which would in theory allow other networks to interact with Google’s ad sales. It follows years of complaints of monopolistic behaviour from Google. However, considering it was proposing splitting it up between itself and… itself, in the form of parent company Alphabet, apparently the US Department of Justice hasn’t gone for it. Meanwhile TikTok is more popular for video among the young, and at an industry event a Google exec noted that more Google services, including Search and Maps, are also being impacted by a growing preference for social media and videos as the first stop on for younger users’ search. Oh and also an indexing issue means that as of this recording new articles are just not showing up in search results.
  • Conde Nast is making the ‘best print magazines on earth’… Not bad for a company that’s not a magazine company any more. This for me just highlights the confusion that exists in the magazine industry and without rehashing old arguments, just stop being ashamed of what you do in print. They’re still at it…”There’s a “romanticised” vision of print-centred magazines that was becoming “less and less sensical” in the age of the internet. The-right sizing at Conde seems to be working and not the business is after print subscription growth. Snark aside, the structural changes to centralise and build global audiences rather than focusing on regional editions makes total sense.
  • The Information is launching a social network just for its subscribers. It will include a Reddit-like news feed, direct messaging, and a directory. “I think it’s clear networking on the internet is a mess,” The Information founder and CEO Jessica Lessin told Axios. She said platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn have got so big and so focused on engagement that they’ve lost the ability to help users create meaningful connections. The network is focused on adding more value to the subscriber experience rather than being a meaningful revenue generator in itself.

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