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Publishing Futures: The story behind the data

The PPA’s Publishing Futures survey is an annual bellwether of the health of consumer magazine and business information publishers. Here, PPA CEO Barry McIlheney delves into the data to pull out the key trends.

By Barry McIlheney

Let’s start with the headlines. Turnover is up. Profitability is up. Confidence is up. Overall, a positive set of broad-brush markers that paint our industry in a pretty healthy light in 2013.

And all of this is great – it indicates the tide is turning after a turbulent few years - but there is much more that can be gleaned from this year’s PPA Publishing Futures survey once you start to burrow down into the detail. What is the mix of revenues within that rise in turnover? Is profitability being driven by growth or cuts? Why are companies so confident in the face of relentless ongoing change?

Carried out and produced by Wessenden Marketing, the 2013 survey is the fourth in the project’s history and comprises data from 96 UK consumer, business and digital publishers, between them responsible for more than 5,100 branded activities. It analyses the performance of consumer magazine and business information publishers in the key areas of advertising, circulation, digital, marketing, and strategy, looking at both current and future performance.

The industry’s revenue mix in 2013 continues to change. Print, while still vitally important as an income stream and to give brands their presence, continues to lose share. In both consumer and B2B, however, this is now beginning to be balanced by digital growth which, more specifically, is being driven by advertising and sponsorship income (72% of consumer and 56% of B2B digital revenues). Furthermore, consumer publishers are predicting significant growth in e-commerce over the next two years, albeit from a low base.

Publishing Futures also gives evidence of the revenue growth increasingly being sourced from overseas markets. For consumer publishers, this is expected to account for just over a fifth (22%) of all income by 2014, and in B2B, where international expansion has been at the core of the sector for several years, overseas markets are forecast to grow their share to a half over the same period.

Overall, the 2013 survey marks an important transitional point for publishers as they work hard to adapt their businesses and consolidate the new revenue opportunities from digital. The overarching message is that the industry is in the process of emerging from a more internally-focused period, where it has concentrated on controlling costs, plugging skills gaps and re-engineering internal structures.

Today, it is more outward-facing. Publishers have a view on developing new digital products and delivering value for advertisers through creative multi-channel commercial packages. But this shift has not been at the expense of the continual drive for efficiency that has now firmly embedded itself among businesses within the sector. As such, there is still an emphasis on getting the best deals from suppliers, keeping the organisation lean, and where there are increases in marketing investment they tend to be tempered by the need to spread that budget over a greater number of channels.

Hand in hand with this drive for efficiency is a determination to create deeper connections with audiences to minimise unpredictable fluctuations in demand and income. This "customer-centric" approach, with a dependence on audience data, has resulted in content and services being packaged and delivered to niches in increasingly sophisticated ways. By the same token, publishers are finding it a challenge to manage such a wide range of activities, and are acknowledging the need to do fewer things better.

The scale of this challenge appears to be at odds with the industry’s confidence levels which, at 8.4 out of a maximum of 10, are up strongly year-on-year. The explanation, it appears, lies in the future. No longer are the industry’s leaders agonising over the economy, the experimental dead-ends, and the pace of change. Instead they are grasping at new opportunities, armed with self-belief, creativity and a newly-galvanised resilience. Perhaps that’s the real headline behind Publishing Futures.

The Publishing Futures report and an edited executive summary are available free to PPA members and for non-members to purchase for £495+VAT. For further details and to request a copy contact Director of Circulation & Member Services Nicola Rowe by email.