Q: As we enter 2021, what's the outlook for publishers?
A: I was heartened to see so many positive publishing news stories during what was an incredibly challenging 2020. Reports late last year that Future had grown its online audiences 56% year-on-year, plus the fact that many consumer publishers began seeing an upturn in circulation numbers, show the resilience of the publishing sector and offer hope for the future. Despite this week’s lockdown announcement, I’m hopeful that, with vaccines starting to be rolled out, these positive trends will continue in 2021.
Q: What advice would you give publishers on how best to negotiate what looks likely to be a challenging start to the year?
A: Keep innovating and exploring new routes to market and new revenue streams. The public’s appetite for your content is undiminished and there is every prospect of a return to near-normal in a few months’ time. From our perspective and with all staff around the globe remotely enabled, we will be continuing to provide the service, ranging from subscriptions and fulfilment right the way through to the final delivery. Keep it coming and we will keep it moving!
Q: In terms of subscription fulfilment and distribution, what were the stand-out trends of 2020?
A: As mentioned before, we’ve seen some very positive trends in circulation numbers and results, especially within the B2C space. Distribution was a challenge with so much volatility in the transportation arena; providing daily customer updates when needed and being nimble enough to change routings quickly has been a real strength.
Surcharges from airlines has not done anyone any favours and we battle tirelessly to mitigate these as much as possible. I expect these challenges to continue well into 2021 and we now have the additional challenge presented by Brexit and the impact this has on shipping goods abroad.
Q: In November, Air Business was named Industry Partner of the Year at the PPA Independent Publisher Awards and the judges highlighted your approach to Covid-19 challenges. As a major supplier to the industry, what challenges did Air Business itself face?
A: We are immensely proud to have received this award; it really was so motivational for all the staff that have worked so hard to keep things moving for our customers. We have not missed a single day of operations since this nightmare started and we have faced challenge after challenge with what I see as our trademark ‘can do’ attitude. Fortuitously, prior to Covid hitting, we decided to replace our global workforce’s desktops with laptops and this has been a major factor in our ability to provide all forms of communication, including voice, with a largely remote workforce.
Q: As we start to emerge from the Covid crisis, vaccine permitting, what do you see as the main growth opportunities for publishers?
A: I’ve always thought that selling product on the back of brand loyalty was a great opportunity. Continuing to build on the growth in subs numbers and online traffic, as well as developing the potential for virtual conferences, seem like logical growth lines. We have launched a new product called Air Business Management Services (ABMS) which allows publishers, on a menu type basis, to move non-core post-production activity to us on a variable basis. This is centred on our core skills and we don’t see it encroaching upon the more specialised areas like newstrade which are more than adequately served by some excellent existing companies.
Q: An acceleration in digital transformation was one of the impacts of Covid: where do you see the role of print in what looks likely to be an increasingly digital future?
A: I still believe there is a definite place for print in the market, as recent growth patterns have shown. Bundles of various forms of content would seem the way forward but as I say, print still has a valuable part to play in the mix.
I recall an article written back in 2015 by Tony Regan, entitled ‘Getting magazine media back on the planner’s shortlist’. In it, he wrote: “As solutions extend across platforms, advertising needs to adapt to different reader mindsets and need-states according to the devices they’re using: focusing on snackable content and high utility for mobile devices, whilst creating a more indulgent, lean-back experience for print and tablets.”
To my mind, that could have been written yesterday. There will always be a demand for the more tranquil reading experience that print satisfies so well.
Air Business is a market-leader in global mail, fulfilment, distribution and subscription management for the publishing sector. As strategic partner of the Professional Publishers’ Association (PPA) since 2010, we are committed to being not just a supplier but an active and loyal supporter of the publishing arena.
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