This week Ian McAuliffe, founder and CEO of Think Publishing, talks about the evolving landscape of contract publishing. He tells us about the ideal employee or a contract publisher, the ideal client and how the pandemic has accelerated digital adoption amongst traditionally conservative clients, but still not killed off print.

In the news roundup, we discuss Axios launching its own communications platform that will enable businesses to update their employees in Axios’ bullet-point style, scary stats for newsletter-based publishers, and the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of misinformation on Twitter.

The full transcript is live here, or see below for highlights:

The skills needed as a contract publisher

In terms of working as a publishing agency, the skill set, and what we expect our teams to do is, whilst I guess the experience, knowledge and understanding of core publishing skills is the same, publishing on behalf of another organisation involves understanding how agencies work, and understanding how to extract from a client what their real aims and objectives are with their publishing programme.

Sometimes we can be a bit of a pain by really trying to get our clients to nail down exactly what their aims and objectives are, what their KPIs are from their publishing programme, and to get it written down so that our teams know then what they’re expected to do.

And I think perhaps in some just commercial publishers, sometimes, aims and objectives can be a little bit lost in the passion for the subject in the passion for the particular area you’re working in. Whereas everyone in our teams really from from editorial, design, creatives, digital, the marketers, subscription specialists, all they are really trying to do is to deliver on what the client has briefed us in to deliver.

Introducing new digital elements for clients

Change is slow with some of the membership organisations we deal with. And that’s not a bad thing. And it hasn’t been a bad thing, I think, because whilst we’ve been watching the commercial publishers rush from one new, bright shiny button to another – I mean, I look back to the launch of digital editions, the Apple newsstand and Future’s rush to get 50 plus titles ready for it on its launch only to see it close very, very quickly and find out that people don’t want digital page turning editions.

The reticence, the slower willingness to change hasn’t proven a bad thing, really, in the past few years, because we’ve waited until we’ve got proof of concept for new digital products and new digital ways of working before going and spending our time, or our client’s time and money on following them.

So funnily enough, what perhaps could be seen as a negative side of working with membership organisations, has proven to be positive, because it means we make much fewer mistakes.

How Covid has changed client experimentation

As an agency in order to do our job well, we are constantly pushing our clients with new ideas, new suggestions, new brand development, new product development. And obviously, it’s entirely up to them, they’re the client, to either take them and run with them or to say, ‘Actually, no thanks at the moment, we’ll leave that for a year and we’ll see how we go.’

The pandemic has ensured that a lot of them have really made some very quick and very decisive decisions about their publishing programme and how to adapt to the pandemic. Because obviously, a lot of them now are not seeing their members at their venues.

And the publishing programme funny enough, has become even more vital during this lockdown, since March last year. It’s enabled us to work really closely with clients who are very open to trying out new things. They’re not risk takers, but more adventurous certainly is what I would say that they are now post Coronavirus.

What members what from membership organisations

We’ve just completed our latest research, which will be out very shortly, of over 200 membership organisations representing over 5 million members. And what is fascinating is that print is still seen as one of the main most effective benefits of communicating with a member. Because of course, you’re pushing content out to them. It’s a curated amount, set amount of content that’s being delivered to them normally at their home address.

And in terms of those numbers, the frequency, yes, they’ve dropped frequency, but it’s still there as part of the programme. All of the clients were moving towards digital before the pandemic, but as I said earlier, at a very slow and steady, very conservative pace. And really what’s happened is the pandemic has just accelerated what was going to happen.

However, I would say fascinatingly, this year, during the pandemic, we had three clients who asked to stop printing the magazine… Funnily enough, all three of them have gone back to print now, because they said, members are just asking for it. Members still want a printed product as part of the publishing programme, not the whole and probably not the most important, but it still is important.

Key stories:

News in brief:

  • A new study has shown that 84% of consumers are unwilling to pay for newsletters, and would rather access ad-supported content for free than pay for ad-free content. Half of consumers subscribe to no email newsletters at all, either for news or entertainment. 
  • Apple is allegedly discussing launching a new subscription service that would charge people to listen to podcasts. No details have emerged about how this would work, but if Apple chose to offer podcast creators a way to make more money, it could be a threat to rivals.
  • The Google News Initiative has announced it will give $3 million to news and fact-checking organisations in an effort to combat misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine. It especially wants to focus on projects to reach groups ‘disproportionately affected by misinformation’.
  • Speaking of which, misinformation dropped dramatically the week after Twitter banned Trump – Zignal Labs charted a 73 percent decline on Twitter and beyond.
  • Telegraph owner Sir David Barclay has died this week aged 86 after a short illness.
  • Local news app News Break has raised $115m in new funding. The startup says it’s currently reaching 12 million daily active users with its AI-driven local news aggregation.
  • Conde Nast US had big plans for podcasts in 2020, but plans to continue into 2021 appear to have collapsed. An open letter from 11 former contract producers and editors blame mismanagement for the network’s lack of success.

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