Magazines in South Africa have suffered without an industry body
Operating locally, but thinking globally has always been our intention so the invitation to join the FIPP board was not only an honour but also a necessity.
I have been very concerned for a long time that there is no magazine industry body in South Africa, not only to protect but also to grow our industry here. It seems odd that at a time when disruption was at its highest, as industry players, we just sat back and let the conversation around ‘print is dead’ continue unchallenged.
I think this has been one of the biggest obstacles to overcome, especially on the ground here. Instead of coming together and presenting a united voice about the way forward, we all continued in our silos.
Even once Google and Facebook showed us who they really were, we remained fragmented and dis-unified instead of using our combined muscle and working together as an industry.
FIPP works in exactly the opposite way. It describes itself as “the network for global media” and the board comprises more than 40 members from across the globe. The board members are committed to a common goal: helping FIPP members build market-leading international businesses by identifying and communicating emerging trends, sharing knowledge, improving skills and, crucially, networking with their industry colleagues worldwide.
One of the most important benefits of being part of the FIPP board is being able to sit at the table with other publishers and engage, with a consolidated voice, the likes of Facebook and Google, who accounted for 90% of digital advertising growth last year.
Even the largest publishers and members of FIPP are insignificant compared to the scale of a Facebook or a Google, but if we come together as an industry we can start to get some of the things we want. There’s a great danger for us as an industry if we present a fragmented voice to those platforms.
The FIPP board members have deep knowledge of the industry and its challenges and are open to sharing this knowledge. And they actually make stuff happen.
One example is FIPP Insider, a new initiative that aims to deepen engagement with existing member companies and to attract new member companies. It’s free to attend and consists of a single-day event, with around five presentations, finishing with a panel discussion.
Presenters would be the young, dynamic FIPP CEO, James Hewes, at least one other international speaker and the rest from the local market. So far, FIPP have hosted seven events in countries as diverse as Finland, Italy and Argentina. In 2019 they hope to bring the format to South Africa too.
Peter Houston, a consultant working to help publishers build a sustainable multi-platform future, spoke at FIPP Insider in Helsinki. He says, “Digital media has reached the end of the beginning and is now part of business as usual for many companies. Increasingly, consumers are also understanding the value of our content and are prepared to pay for it, particularly through print or digital subscriptions.”
This is backed up by Deloitte’s prediction that by the end of 2020, the proportion of subscription to advertising revenue for publishers will be 50:50 for digital. According to research by FIPP and CeleraOne, as recently as 2012, this split was 10:90.
For now, the need to change the perception that we are still magazine and print businesses remains. AMP, for example, is really a multi-channel media business now, with established and recognisable brands that speak across print, digital and live events to significant audiences.
It’s a fantastic time to be working in publishing: we have access to real time data, we have the editorial influence, brand authority and far better audience insight to truly serve our audiences better.
FIPP predictions and my own observations for 2019
- Media businesses face an almost unprecedented training and development challenge. Every aspect of our businesses is pivoting towards a multi-platform, brand-centric approach, embracing not only content creation and distribution but data collection and management, e-commerce, events and so on. All of this requires a high degree of re-skilling and some strategic hiring.
- Then there’s the power of the platforms, particularly Facebook and Google. Members who have their roots in publishing have had periods where distribution has been concentrated in the hands of a few powerful providers but never to the extent that we see now. Fundamentally these players are motivated by an extremely positive desire to deliver content, product and services, driven by detailed customer understanding and rapid improvements in technology. Crucially, they still rely on FIPP’s members for much of the content to power this.
- Prioritisation is not a new challenge of course but the plethora of opportunities open to media businesses makes investment prioritisation more crucial than ever. We all have limited resources, and management teams need to be able to make an informed call on what to do next. Membership of FIPP presents an incredible overview of the industry as well as opportunities to share experiences and learn from one another.
- Responding to changes with agility continues to be the only way to navigate the new normal: innovations such as our brand new AMP Content to Commerce journey. Our audience can now engage in an entirely new way with our brands and advertising partners. Having bridged the gap between print and digital, and the hiatus between content and commerce, our magazine consumers are able access extra content, more experiences and shop directly off our platforms. Innovation takes time, resources and massive focus, but it is a survival imperative.
- The route to market for magazine media in print continues to implode in South Africa but now at a seriously accelerated pace. Publishers who have not evolved into multiple and established digital platforms that they are actually able to monetise will not survive much longer.
- The biggest opportunity is that all businesses can now play in the whole of the media space and have just as much of a chance of success as anyone else. A key strength of FIPP has always been the ability to bring together different players in the media industry so that they can do business together.
- Secondly, the global nature of digital media makes it ever easier for media owners to bring their fantastic brands to new markets. Businesses can build a presence in new markets themselves with a relatively small investment. The volume of M&A in the media industry also seems to be increasing, as businesses build scale through acquisition. Here FIPP can leverage the power of its membership base and range of contacts to enable member companies to seize these opportunities.
- Considering the consumer and not the reader is a mind shift that opens new opportunities through transactional relationships between magazine media and audiences. In particular, we all need to be moving towards getting our consumers comfortable with the concept of paying for our content. In combination with a well-executed e-commerce and events strategy, this is the foundation of the future of our industry.
- We need to move on to the point where we all understand that we have progressed from a one-channel business to a brand business with a multi-channel approach. If we can all accept this, we can forge a starting point for future collaboration between publishers and advertising/retail partners in South Africa. It will lead to a much more successful outcome.