It was one of those weeks last week in Florida. Those of us who blew into Miami for the annual Outsell Signature Event were almost blown right out of Key Biscayne as a tropical storm, generating gusting winds of up to 45 mph, threatened to turn Key Biscayne into the Key Largo of the movies. As moderator, I expected the next entrance to be by Edward G Robinson. However, the weather did keep us very attentive to what was happening on the platform, and very worthwhile it was to listen, and abandon a few prejudices on the way.

Since we are our prejudices, I found this hard. For example, having been scorned by consumer print media throughout the Nineties, I have always treasured the idea that not only were they far behind the game – but Doomed! And I can point to some newspaper groups on both sides of the Atlantic to illustrate the point. Yet two consumer magazine companies spoke, and both, in differing ways, had me and my (ever so slightly) smug B2B buddies scribbling furiously. Reporting rules prevent me from getting into the detail, but the acquisition of iCrossing by Hearst is very public knowledge, and now seems to me a very rational strategy for moving along the value chain, and extending and deepening the service and value that can be packaged for advertisers. At the same time, the conference saw some really smart iPad apps from consumer publishers, and while there was an annoying tendency to talk about  “replica” publishing, the attractiveness of the end-product could not be denied.

This “replica” business must be addressed. It seems to me that it derives from a confusion between brand and format, and an often near-unconscious desire to “protect” print. This is irrational, both because print must defend itself and needs no sheltering, and because the behavioural mode of use for digital is so often so different to that of print that we are talking about different service models for different markets, even though those separate markets may be  composed of the same people. Thinking that brand can only be affixed to print in media (even when that media is on the move to digital) is equally bizarre, and is as much a folly of STM publishers as of consumer publishers. The point is to get to a neutral platform position as soon as possible, and then operate as a creator of content divorced from a delivery strategy, and then deliver what users want in media packages, be they print, mobile, online or whatever, with the brand attached at all points to everything, but most especially to the service values.

For me, it follows from this that the day will come when, from content neutral platforms, we are delivering a mix of services where the media elements, as well as the content and delivery method, are dictated by users. They may buy by the drink, of course, but naturally subscription services and depletion payment models will all work well in this context. And some people will want to mix print and digital in these services, and to the extent that they do, “print will not die”. However, the print brand will in time assume the quality, trust and authority of the whole service. My only worry at the end of all this is whether we shall have larger businesses as a result.

The conference held a great deal more than this thought, of course. Those who, like me, had never seen a Facebook senior executive on a public platform had their curiosity amply rewarded by Mike Murphy’s charm offensive. Those, also like me, who speculated that all service values are ultimately niche values found satisfying content from Ascend Worldwide, DataExplorers and Farm Journal Media. And those who wanted to get a fix on where we are, economically and commercially, got that too, with the addition of valuable insights on the performance of the information industry and the state of its marketplaces from McKinsey’s Richard Benson Armer. Outsell will no doubt post the general session slides on their site ( They are worth watching out for in this particularly difficult to read pivotal year when it is hard to say how long it takes to cross the plateau and whether there is a double dip at the other side.


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