Tuesday, May 6, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: Truth on the IDG Story

BoSacks Speaks Out: Truth on the IDG Story

BoSacks Speaks Out: This article has an interesting perspective on the IDG story I posted yesterday. Here is my take on this whole process.

Publishing and making money on the written word is not going out of style or business. We have been writing and recording our history for 25,000 years that I know of. Yes, I said 25,000 thousand years. But that publishing time line is another story for another day.

The only thing that is interesting and important now is that the medium upon which we survive is changing. If you think that people are going to stop writing and stop making a profit on that writing, then you are reading the wrong newsletter, at the wrong time, on the wrong day, and you are also grievously mistaken.

This planet will have profitable writing and advertising until we transcend the needs for any physical instrumentality at all. So what we need to focus on is this - where is the money? Where is the money coming from to pay for writing all the interesting words?

Do you think that in five years or ten or twenty no one will be writing, publishing and making a profit on the enterprising work? Do you think that organizations, both big and small, will not be distributing news, stories, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the "craft" information of how to do things to the general Public?

The real question is not if there is going to be any publishing; no, the real question on every body's mind is this - where do I fit in? What will my employment be like in five, ten and twenty years? How will I feed my family? Do I have the necessary skills to stay in this industry and make money? Those are the real questions.

And the answer to those questions is still in formation. There are still multi-billions of dollars in the print universe. Media that matters is in flux. Media that makes money is in flux. Our media universe is changing faster than we can possibly comprehend.

Here is Bo's last part of this rant. Stay loose. Stay informed. Broaden your professional interests and experiences to the maximum. You will never know what part of your training will be important until it is flying at you at Internet speeds. You need the smarts, the agility and the experience to recognize the next opportunity as it speeds by your desk. The future is bright for publishing, and there will be a need for employees to make that new world a profitable one. The only thing that is changing is the distribution platform, not the need for people to run the systems that distribute the words to the people who wish to read those words.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895, Act I

Happy IDG story no salve for dying media companies
Posted by: Aaron Pressman

There's a happy-dappy profile of tech publishing and conference giant International Data Group in today's New York Times. The story notes how IDG's publishing arm got 86% of its revenue from print and 14% from the web five years ago but now its getting slightly over half its revenue from the web. Wow. Indeed, this is seen as some kind of important and hopeful sign for the publishing and media business at large, with a comparison to the decision by The Capital Times newspaper to abandon its print edition and a closing quote from venture capitalist Stewart Alsop that "what's happening at I.D.G. is a fairly accurate map for every other publishing organization."

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially for my own industry, but using what happened at IDG as a map for the rest of the publishing industry would be like using Christopher Columbus's charts to fly to the moon. There's a publishing pink elephant in the room that nobody in the NYT's story seems to notice. Most of IDG's publications are what's known as controlled circulation. Readers paid nothing but were selected to receive titles like Infoworld gratis based on their attraction to certain advertisers. There is no subscription revenue to the publisher and the publisher still bears all the costs of printing and mailing. So when IDG shifts a publication to the web and stops printing, it can cut costs to the bone and shift advertisers to its web site.

But most publishers charge for subscriptions - in fact they charge a lot. The New York Times collected $227 million from subscribers in the first quarter, for example, along with $458 million in ad revenue. For mainstream publishers, that's a much bigger potential loss from the seemingly obvious and simple shift online depicted in the IDG story.

The article also raises questions about advertiser behavior. A tech-industry trade publication's advertisers come from a narrow slice of the entire ad market, a slice that's likely more comfortable going online and more likely to be selling directly online than other segments. But when you look at the whole ecosystem of advertisers, especially the big players in mainstream publications, you find a rather different attitude. It's a lot easier to imagine Cisco Systems and Salesforce.com shifting ads to a web-based version of Infoworld than it is to see Tiffanys or Bulgari moving from the New York Times Sunday Magazine to the web. Research I've cited in the past examining the revenue shift for mainstream publishers concluded that its an almost insurmountable mountain.

Finally, I'm also a little wary of stories about private companies that don't disclose all their financial information the way public companies do. We know that publishing is only one part of IDG's business but not how big a part. We know the publishing division got a higher percentage of revenue from the web in 2007 than in 2002 but not anything about the dollar amounts involved. I emailed a PR rep at IDG to see if they'd disclose more info but haven't heard back. In the meantime, there's less than meets the eye for the rest of the publishing industry from IDG's transformation.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I worked at an IDG magazine called The Industry Standard for a few years that was shut down by the company.

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