A few days have gone by and I have read a great deal of commentary on the merger of IHS and Markit. It has been interesting to see the various hopes expressed for a dynamic future, the justified faith in valuations borne of data and analytics, the readings of the leadership tea leaves in analytical circles and the various interpretations surrounding the decision to move the tax base to London. All good stuff. But it leaves me puzzled about the questions not asked and the analysis not performed. I have known IHS since it was a Thyssen Bornemiza company years ago, aligned with search engines of the 1980s like BRS. Seeing it then as the Information Handling Services outsource for the aircraft industry of Denver (think taxonomy when we called it thesaurus!) I have watched it grow at least once before out of control, re-niche itself around energy and engineering, and then regrow again in wild acquisitive profusion. Likewise I have watched Markit’s lusty growth, it’s move into data markets (recall DataExplorers) and its competitive issues with Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters.

So, what I wanted to know from the commentators was fairly basic: Does this mean that the IHS rapid acquisition strategy has failed? Is this a portfolio company that, once again, needs weeding and reconcentrating? Will that be done more effectively in London than in Denver? Does this mean that the strategy of buying high value, profitable operations and keeping them in their niches is at an end? When they decide which business areas they want to centre upon, will they create a new data platform, concentrate all of their data from these currently unrelated companies, and begin again on new product development in co-operation with their clients?

And the questions go on. Does this mean the end of using acquisitions as a way of goosing the share price and a return to strategies based around organic growth? Does it suggest a strategy that returns to the old portfolio ideas (it’s never raining everywhere), or, hopefully, is there a Thomsonesque idea here of a Markets company, with the glue not corporate law and compliance, but a specialization in the energy and engineering sectors, the former especially being of great interest and a wider concern for all corporates at large. So does such a strategy foreshadow a bid for Thomson’s IP interests, now available, which would cement a traditional specialization of IHS in industrial documentation from standards to patents? And having just swallowed IPIS, the oil pricing service, can they let Argus Media, now on the block, go to a competitor with similar strategic aims (like Verisk, owner of Wood Mackenzie). (Perhaps, since it will probably go to private equity, this should not disturb a night’s sleep!).

Nature abhors a vacuum! Since I have no answers to hand from managers or analysts, I may have to supply some of my own. IHS owns many stunning properties. But it really does need to get them onto one coherent platform, along with the user data and profiling that has arisen from their historical usage, and get into the service provision mode of co-creating new services in conjunction with their clients. They need no more than two “broad niches”, and Markit can well cover the market focus of those – sell everything that does not fit these niche definitions. Bring third party and Open niche data onto the platform in order to become once more the focus of user service creation efforts – I have already written at boring length on the flawed decision to sell GlobalSpec. Use the business models that give greatest returns for the greatest amount of user reliance and loyalty – business models are not religious beliefs. Above all, think carefully about new product development. Your data is vital: your productisation of it as of now is less so. Your brands are valuable but they are not static either, so you need to be able to extend them across new services built co-operatively with your customers.

And is there room for such a strategy? And who is doing it? Well, a class example would be Lexis Nexis Risk in the insurance vertical. Thomson Reuters are slowly moving from Portfolio Mode to Corporate Market Services mode (corporates as investment vehicles plugged into a service base of law, tax, risk and compliance). Does Bloomberg see it or not? Bloomberg Law and BNA says they buy some of this – but neither of the large markets players, by their small investments in data (New Energy Finance, Point Carbon etc) has put themselves in anywhere near the position now occupied by Markit in energy markets. How that positioning is deployed and how successful it is could be the key to consolidations as yet un-imagined.

Above all, success will depend upon how effectively these players can co-create with users who know and trust them and procreate new product development. The start-ups cannot be relied on to work quickly enough on seed corn funding. The conglomerates cannot simply wait for start-up trial and error to succeed and buy the results – and then not integrate them into their own operations. If we as an industry cannot get this right- then our users will do it for themselves!

Ah, the Theatre of the B2B marketplace! After two days at the Briefing Media Digital Media Strategies event, I feel I have seen every Shakespearian death rattle in the book. From noble senators quaffing the offered hemlock with disdain to the King falling publicly on his sword. Above all, the sense that honeyed words and sweet poison poured in the ear in the form of complacency in the face of extinction is a stoic exit in the context of inexorable change. O for some raging in the dying of the light!

Or perhaps I am being a bit too theatrical. There were positive elements and signs of a new industry appearing. But not in the ruins of the old, where playing the new game as if the old rules still mattered is disastrous. Take Piers North (Strategy Director, Trinity Mirror) and Stefan Bitzold (MD Digital, BILD). They told a panel on adblockers that it is all about Hard Power and Soft Power. The user must be told to behave. If not, the privilege of getting free or even paid for information will be withdrawn. This may make the audience in the room feel happy, but it avoids simple and inconvenient truth: the user is in control and not the supplier and this has been the case since 1993. And the news is now fully commoditised. If news vendors do not accept that, then Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles should convince them.

Monty Python had a dead parrot. We had the “Boy Stood on the Burning Deck”. Simon Fox, CEO of Trinity Mirror is such an evidently nice guy that one has to wonder what crimes in a previous life sentenced him to this. His counter strategy is to go back into print with his New Day product. Only eight ad slots and no classified. Written by men and women for women and men (this, apparently is a first!). They sold 150k at launch last week and have now increased the price to 25p en route to 50p. No need for a digital strategy here, because there is no digital. Hello, wake up and smell the coffee, it really is 1945 all over again! But Trinity Mirror have their presses to optimize, their editorial headcount is down to 25, quality maintenance must be a nightmare, and it’s getting harder to maintain margins by cutting overheads. Consolidating LocalWorld (the regional papers of DMGT’s Northcliffe) into Trinity Mirror’s locals can again lead to consolidation to maintain margin, but has nobody noticed that while the newspaper market has leaked advertising and circulation for 20 years now, decline gets steeper towards the end? It may be too late now to rediscover what all those people on the commuter trains are doing on their smartphones in the morning.

Much less sad was David Pemsel, MD of the Guardian Group. Getting a global footprint for a liberal minded commentary on the news has plainly worked. He will use Google and Facebook as a channel to market for branded content. The problem here is a business strategy for holding the losses and satisfying the mandate of the Scott Trust to keep the not for profit going. Will membership do it? It’s a hedge against the decline of advertising was the answer. Not too hopeful but at least there are options. Will print end soon? Possibly – a print free Guardian could be envisaged but not nearly yet. The game was more niche markets, more editions, more specialised writing directly at targeted audiences. The Guardian staff is over 900. It has major experiments in citizen journalism. It appears, as a nineteenth century creation, to be busily about its task of finding a new role for the 2050s. There will not be many survivors in the pasteurised news market – only the strongest brands with a reputation for accuracy and a twist on their commentary position can hope to do so.

Hope came from even more unlikely places. LADbible has a good value exchange position. I was disappointed that sex, celebrity and body shape came as low as fourth is its audience priority but with a reach of 150 m in the 13-24 age range, and with 30% of its readers female it seemed to have created a real niche in a wholly digital world. It’s CEO, Mimi Turner came through Northern and Shell to this role, clearly a valuable apprenticeship in a market where communications must say it all in under 12 seconds, and the vital frontline is 6 seconds of attention span. so the notification to the Lockscreen does become the vital attention grabber. But no print heritage here to worry about, and a declining amount at Immediate Media. Francois-Regis Coumau, Group Managing Director, is ex-eBay, so obviously sees no problem about buying a TV merchandising channel for selling jewellery and creating a web presence around it. All media plays, using the best way or combination of ways to reach specialised audiences, suits the old BBC Magazines and Magicalia group, another rare example of post-print life after death.

But, alas, life in the morgue went on relentlessly. Duncan Painter, CEO of Ascential (sorry, it will always be EMAP to me however many times they change its name) told us he was only 4% ad dependent. And now, just before the recent float, he had turned off all print, since it was now an “unviable platform”. 80% of subscribers at that point were digital. But the larger issue looming over the conversation concerned the decision to abandon all print, even that which still makes money. Did that sweeten the float by suggesting that all legacy problems had been resolved? And why would you float 43% (post debt some 25%) if you could sell it? Or is this one of those instances where failure to sell at a premium to a third party resolves into using the public markets and the private investor as a fall back position?

And the last interment, given the high hopes when Ashley Highfield went to Johnston Press, was sad for some listeners like me. Jack Moriarty, Chief Digital Officer, made a game showing, but failed to explain to me at least why this group bought the Independent’s I newspaper for £24m. And the idea that they cannot use Independent or Evening Standard derived material digitally adds to the queries. The idea that users will accept copy branded Scotsman or Yorkshire Post in its place seems very odd, even if these brands had any resonance to a smartphone user of a service like this. A glance had their new service developments like wow24/7 also fails to reassure. It makes LADbible look sparkling! Where is the Alfred Lord Northcliffe of our times who will rethink the connection between content, aspiration and media? Unfortunately his name is Zuckerberg and he does not work on the Northern Echo.

This was a combative and vital meeting of DMS. In my country village childhood funerals were always red letter days. But we know that when print declines, it goes slowly for years then plunges rapidly towards the end. I expect soon to attend all digital meetings here in a sector which is consolidating rapidly around a workflow and data analytics driven view of the world. News is vital there, but only when it changes something, and the user reading it may be less important than the machine knowing it.