Publish Asia: Diversification and monetisation

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One of the tragedies of the current focus on paring costs is that fewer people are attending conferences (writes Peter Coleman).

It's the end of the first day of a Publish Asia event in Bangkok which has delivered a continuous stream of ideas and inspiration: core keynotes and topics for chief executives, flanked by concurrent sessions on advertising, newsroom and print production.

About a dozen vendors have stand space and as many more are "working the aisles" but core attendance - despite a few latecomers - still hovers in the mid 300s. Why?

This 15th annual Asia Pacific event delivers a powerful mix of speakers at the edge of digital and print publishing, plus cocktail and dinner functions richly laced with the cultural delights they're currently calling 'Thainess'.

Sure there's a commercial element to breakfast and lunch sessions on Big Data and revenue optimisation, plus a midroll native ad for video server Brightcove, but - if you feel you've nothing to learn from their messages - you can opt to network instead.

A video review of the year from Reuters opened the programme, but then it was straight into design guru Mario Garcia, who had an early plane to catch - with a potted version of the masterclass he had delivered the previous afternoon - but lacking little of the passion.

"These are exciting times," says the 68-year-old who has moved on from redesigning more than 700 newspapers to helping publishers reinvent their publications across what he likes to call the 'media quartet' of platforms.

The hard facts of a changing media scene were presented by Thomas Jacob, who launched Ifra Asia and then India's Mail Today joint venture before returning to WAN-Ifra where he is now its Frankfurt-based chief operating officer: Print advertising in the Asia Pacific has fallen 13 per cent in the five years since 2009 and while digital revenue has risen 47 per cent, most of this has gone to new players such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook.

With no chance of digital replacing lost print revenue, Jacob points to the need for publishers to diversify... and the day's programme reflects the ways in which many have done so.

One drastic example is from Axel Springer, where content management managing director Pit Gottschalk (on our homepage) tells how the German giant sold the profitable Hamburg daily on which it had been founded to fund investment in digital projects. Among initiatives is the recruitment of 80 developers hired to "explore ideas" in an incubator environment.

Now an online-centric organisation, it has moved to top positions in its three key competencies - content, classified and marketing - by focusing on them:"Do what you do best," says Gottschalk.

Later L'Equipe's Frederique Lancien (right) shared the passion of the French sports news publisher she works for and told how the print daily had expanded online into dedicated websites - including one for youth provocatively called #WTF - ticketing, coaching services and gradually into e-commerce. Digital now generates a quarter of the group's revenue.

For others, the growth has been into video: Brightcove's Ben Morrell quizzed Nation Broadcasting new media vice president Amnart Treenarat on the Thai daily's venture into video - a new website optimized to "make more money" - and VGTV editor and chief executive Helje Solberg talked about the Norwegian publisher's steps into youth-targetted web-native TV.

With what was described as present-day costs and 1950s revenue, cost savings were also on the agenda, and Post Publishing's Supakorn Vejjajiva told how the Bangkok publisher had outsourced finance and accounting functions after successfully doing the same with IT.

The use of audience data was never far from thoughts, with specific contributions from Rappler's Maria Ressa and Yves Bougon, east Asia director of magazine publisher Hearst media International.

And there was much more: Concurrent sessions focused on advertising and newsroom issues, and on the production front a panel discussion led by ABP India manufacturing vice president Snehasis Roy looked at paper cost savings and opportunities for product enhancement, expanding on these and related themes in concurrent production summit sessions today and tomorrow.

Lacking a more formal opening this morning the Asia Media Awards dinner tonight will be addressed by Thai prime minister and army chief Prayuth Chanocha, guest of honour at the gala event during which regional publishing awards will be presented.

The conference programme continues tomorrow. Earlier, Tuesday's programme had offered long intimate masterclass sessions with Eamonn Byrne (sales team development) and Mario Garcia (visual communication and storytelling). Each of which would have delivered value for delegates in excess of their registration costs and at a pinch, you could do both. As Byrne commented - and then felt necessary to explain the Englishness of the expression - what's not to love?

• Next year's Publish Asia conference will be held in Manila, the Philippines.

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