Day Two began with a trip down Memory Lane – a presentation from the Editor of Estates Gazette (EGi) that at once reminded me that it is now 16 years since Mark Kelsey’s innovative interactive service at Reed Business engaged that most conservative of audiences, the British commercial property agent, and that EGi itself needs, like us all, to adapt to changing market circumstance. The old magazine is still there in print, and in replica on iPad (50% of users have one) with embedded video (this edition published a revolutionary 24 hours before the print!). The sale is still a bundle, and at £3,000 for an individual, and £30k multi-user licences fairly normal, cannot be called a low price deal. In difficult markets for commercial property net growth is a problem, but the hint in this presentation that the answer lies in data integration seems to me just right. Enable all that data on occupancy, planning history (zoning), ownership etc to be linkable, and you have the ability to mine the data for building reports (they have created 635,000 so far) and for custom re-use. They have just signed their first exclusive contract with a major agent: this data really needs to be used in conjunction with the agent’s own data to make sense. And of course they are redesigning, going global with links to major property trade shows etc, but to me the essence lies in the data. Get it all on one platform, encourage users to avoid print through the pricing bundle so as to increase margins, and then play the data game to become the bedrock internal information service provider for the agencies. Digital may make you smaller, but it should also make you more profitable and very sticky in increasingly less competitive markets.

Someone who clearly gets it is Charles Thiede, the CTO at Informa Business. His portfolio, with revenues around $400m and an operating margin of $140 m is 80% digital in its revenue base, and is concentrated around Healthcare, Global Trade (Lloyds, in print since 1724) and market research (Datamonitor). He spoke lovingly of the campaign for data discovery. Data flows naturally from the business – Lloyds report 65 million navigational positions on 72,000 commercial vessels each year – but everywhere it is locked up in spreadsheets, search results, structured databases, reports, filters etc. The message was clear: re-platform to enable access to data, allow modular and customizable research, and then drive directly towards integration with customer workflow. His current methodology is the Tableau data visualization tool, but this perhaps is less important than the principles involved: turn your customer into your collaborator, put personalization at the heart of the matter, and recognize that the user is now, in every sense, the Publisher, and you are the enabling service provider.

Regular readers here will know that a drought of such undiluted Kool Aid will have made your correspondent tired and emotional – or at least in need of a strong drink. And indeed some other presentations also drove in that direction. Bryan Glick, editor in chief of Computer Weekly, clearly took the right step when he and his colleagues deserted print in April 2011. But new owners TechTarget, while they have 200k Computer Weekly subscribers digitally rather than 90k in print, have a business with a revenue base closer to £5m than the £20 m they had in print at its late 1990s peak. The way to address this issue lies, as the previous paragraph indicates, in the service base rather than in events (good as they are) or other traditional industry diversification expedients. What happened to the Computer Weekly community, one wondered, and of its product data from those innumerable and interminable industry press releases? Or is this business that the new owner does in other ways in other places? To a certain extent the industry must get used to “Get Smaller – with bigger margins”, but that can only be tolerable if the full service supply opportunity is also being exploited. In this whole debate, only Charles Thiede mentioned the Internet of Things – a clue to how fascinated the magazine community, especially in B2B, has remained with the editorial and production process for news, and how detached they still remain from where their client interest really lies.

John Kennedy of IBM tried to improve the customer focus at the end, and Christian Ropke, Managing Director of ZEIT ONLINE, wanted to re-assure us that in a well-managed newspaper economy, loyal to print, like Germany, then online could run alongside print and succeed in pleasing differing tastes of the same readers. His 25,000 subscribers are 5% of print and generate 33m uniques a month. When he inelegantly proclaimed that “The Shitstorm Never Came”, I was left wondering. In the comfortable offices of Die Zeit, would anyone notice? Out there in commercial property, or shipping or technology sales life may seem quite a bit different.

Two days out at the Digital Media Strategies conference (organized by The Media Briefing Team) was a breath of fresh air. For one thing Rory Brown and Neil Thackray, and their Editor, Patrick Smith, have now tuned the programme and its marketing to the point where they get 220 delegates in one place with a great sense of mission. Then again, this is a variegated audience – C-suite in places, but also real functional managers with something to learn and share – as I found out in the two Roundtables that I moderated. And in a vast hotel on a traffic island in Westminster, the fresh air of London in February at half-term braced your entrances and exits: drink cans and paper bags fly at head height on the South Bank’s bleakly resculptured walkways.

Inside nothing flew other than the odd insult, but the attendees found absorbing quality. Let me however check an initial prejudice in at the cloakroom. I did not attend the advertising-related streams, given that the advertising-related panels gave me a distinct feeling of doom. The title of this piece relates to the current conviction that a “viewable impression” occurs when up to 50% of an advertisement is viewed for a second. Here is the language of madness: if advertising is designed to bring buyer and seller together then what we are doing online is an endgame for screen space, simply stretching the print model to extinction because we adare not change it online. With rates falling catastrophically and inventory unsold, digital advertising will never be what its proponents want it to be, and I watched fascinated by the lemming-like intensity with which audiences concentrated on how to get things right and make the model work. I believe the answers lie in social media, and are now close at hand, but a lot more magazines have to go over the lemming leap before we get there.

But elsewhere there was sweetness and light, and it was Nick Gee, Mobile Director at Trader Media (AutoTrader) who really got me going. This is AaaS – Advertising as a Service – if I may coin a usage, and I was not surprized to hear that mobile has moved from 7 to 15% of all usage of the car-advertising service in a year without cannibalization. Or that people like Nissan and Toyota are now prepared to sponsor the iPad edition for month at a time. Here is advertising that readily goes social, and results in paid-for premium upgrades to get instant used vehicle histories. They have even developed on online magazine (Ignition) which also cross-references to the search capacity; easier to build the magazine once you have a paying audience for other services. This was a story of single platform and data – driven development – data integration lies at the heart of this success. And motor dealers can even get a smartphone app to do quick uploads! But there is the rub: as non-executive chairman of Fish4 years ago I competed with these guys and knew how brilliant they were at getting into dealerships, supplying inventory software and edging my newspaper clients out. However, now this market goes social – why does the seller need a dealer? Increasingly AutoTrader will experience the tensions between its old affiliation to the real world market structure and its new audience, who will expect to find their vehicle history online, a price check, a warranty from an insurer or a repair shop, and to be able to view images and video of the vehicle to complete online purchasing. Financing commissions on these deals may well be the future, but what do you do with those loyal dealers as they see the market peeling away from them, led by the service that they once enabled?

No such doubts assailed me as I listened to Emma Fulton, from audience measurement at News International. “We really strive to have direct relationships with users, not via intermediaries, and luckily the majority of our users come directly”. But there are only 300,000 of them, the churn remains undisclosed, and while 56% are direct, I would be worried by Apple owning 18% of them – and the rest being unresolved triallists. Nothing here which demonstrates the place of The Times or the Sun in the digital galaxy. As with Raju Narisetti, who runs digital for the Wall Street Journal and who spoke earlier in the day, there was a surprising absence of discussion beyond the old print format online. Just a word on personalization would have offered contradiction to the thought that the News Corp interests are heading for the great Digital Museum in the Clouds!

And yet there was much to be learned from Nick Blunden, not quite the Chief Digital Officer at the Economist but almost! First came the shock: people do read the words in the Economist and it is not just a business coffee table medium for selling Swiss watches and expensive cars. Print subs have risen to £1.5 m and there are 650k online readers. Unbundling has worked brilliantly in the US to get a premium price for print plus online, and 60% of users now opt for this. Then it was refreshing to hear talk of audio – a very neglected medium – and learn that Economist Radio handles 1.5 m monthly streams. But still I kept coming back to the idea that the Economist’s ability to fillet an issue and allow an online catch-up had a Wikipedia-like quality when found in an interrogation – type context. Clearly the Economist are a long way from using their content in this way – but if they attached their source references to the articles they would create a very considerable value.

Tomorrow I will tackle Day 2 of a very interesting mixed media conference.

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