Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Transition: Print to Online

Many publishers (myself included) have made the transition from print orientation to web and seen their business and not least their revenue model completely transform. I've refered to this as the 'valley of death' which is what the top line can look like as you make this transition and others have referred to it as "trading dollars for dimes". Industry luminaries such as Tim O'Reilly have noted some fundamental problems in trading subscription and print based ad models for web only ad models: Basically the numbers can fail to add up. (Read the article and follow some of the links).

There are some success stories and there are likely to be more as publishers willingly and generally otherwise, look to the web for revenue growth. The NYTimes discusses how magazine publisher International Data Group which is the biggest publisher of technology magazines has successfully made this transition. From the article:
Advertisers and readers of high-tech publications have moved online more swiftly than other audiences, so I.D.G. may offer a glimpse of the future of publishing. Yet the transition at I.D.G. came only after years of investment, upheaval and changes in its practice of journalism. “The excellent thing, and good news, for publishers is that there is life after print — in fact, a better life after print,” said Patrick J. McGovern, the founder and chairman of I.D.G.

The article goes on to note that InfoWorld is now generating ad revenue of $1.6mm per month with an operating margin of 37% whereas the combination print and web product of a year ago was a break-even operation. Since their market is technology they have some advantage over other types of magazines; however, their navigation of this transition is instructive and predictive of the manner in which publishers will ultimately become successful.

In IDG's case they have remained faithful to the mission of providing content their core market wants, aggressively managing the performance of their titles and shutting down those that don't perform and they have combined staff into cohesive and focused groups. Companies that make this transition early and successfully will establish difficult to surmount positions relative to their competitors; thus it becomes harder for the second, third and fourth players to garner the ad revenue and secure transaction revenues and fees necessary to become successful.

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