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Opportunities & Threats: Consumer Media

What’s the outlook for consumer media? Jon Bickley, co-founder and CEO of Anthem, looks ahead.

By Jon Bickley

Opportunities & Threats: Consumer Media
Jon Bickley.

Casting an eye over previous contributions to this column, I was struck by two things – firstly, they were presaged by comments on the major geopolitical shocks we’d suffered and, secondly, they focused on the diversification towards subscriptions and digital consumer revenues that’s been the industry’s holy grail for over ten years.

Sadly, 2023 has seen the horrific events in the Middle East causing terrible suffering and creating further economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, the spectres of ChatGPT and its kin have cast huge doubts over the sustainability of online publishing models in a more fundamental way than anything else over the last decade. How can we defend ourselves against entities that take our content, repackage and serve it back to our consumers without acknowledgement or recompense?

We’re being drawn into an ever-tougher knife fight with each combatant looking for an edge: beat the algorithms; ringfence content; lock in customers. And, of course, we need to be in the ring to stay relevant. But we also need to pause to consider what we have that AI doesn’t. I’m calling out three USPs – brands, communities and, breaking with recent tradition, print.

Our brands give us trust and distinction. Hearst UK CEO Katie Vanneck-Smith recently described how Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful and Country Living’s brand licencing giving halo credibility to partner organisations is a model for the rest of her organisation’s growth. At Anthem, we too generate significant revenue from licencing the use of Vegan Food & Living’s award winner logos to companies that understand the trust our readers vest in our judgement.

As hosts of communities, we provide safe spaces away from the vagaries of social media. People identify with magazine brands and know that if they meet another reader, they’ll have more in common than not. If we can bring our people together in closed digital environments, or even face-to-face, it elevates us above soulless bots that answer questions without engagement or humanity. Our own Women’s Running brand gets people together to chat, run and drink prosecco!

Lastly, print is – largely – AI-proof. Yes, content can be produced artificially, but our routes to worldwide markets and the unique physicality of print are strengths many digital players would give an arm for. Books didn’t succumb to Kindle and magazines and bookazines don’t have to capitulate either. In an ephemeral world of screen-fatigue, printed publications still give joy and inspiration. And in a consolidating market focused on digital migration, there’s space for publishers to succeed creating beautiful, resonant magazines and finding readers who love them. Anthem’s international copy sales, led by Colouring Heaven, grew 28% in 2023, with the UK up 5%. That’s good business that, at the very least, helps arm us for the digital knife fight!

This article was first published in the Publishing Partners Guide (PPG) 2024, which is published and distributed by InPublishing. You can register to receive InPublishing magazine here.