Publishing strategies - three ways to build for the future

Speakers at WAN-Ifra's Berlin Publishing Days looked at publishing strategies from all possible angles, including digital, print and mobile, and from the smallest independent publisher in the regions to major groups covering several countries.

AI and machine learning, VR, data lakes and the vital question of building subscriptions... it all came under the microscope in hall 21, Berlin Messe Nord.

German regional publisher Schwäbisch Media sees itself as a "future-orientated media house" reported chief executive Kurt Sabathil.

"We stick to our region and address every possible market niche, with our 19 dailies, 14 weeklies, sub-local community papers and a million copies monthly of our own magazines which we deliver ourselves."

He says that "in a dying industry", good young professionals were hard to get but efforts to appeal to youth meant half of employees were under the age of 38.

Working from the unspoken publishing playbook, Sabathil reports that investing in good journalism - with 27,000 e-papers - has seen a growth of 10,000 over the past 21 months, with a paywall set up in 2014. "We are always focussed on building our sales team and advertising revenue," he says.

Sabathil told how the company realised the need for greater efficiency, with lean management methods and production, changing workflow and bringing more activities in-house, establishing mobile magazines, podcasts and video, and boosting activities outside newspapers... and recorded growth each year."

However he sounded a note of caution over this rosy picture: "After ten or 15 years, there will be no paper anymore and this will bring problems with distribution, so we need a digital answer or we are dead."

Journalism and its innovations was the focus of Sonja Kretzschmar's presentation. As head of the Institute for Journalists at the Universität de Bundeswehr Munich, she argued that journalism is in transition with multiple outlets, new plays and new applications.

"There are many more competitors and players between us and the news now - with the word innovation around every corner, we must give the impression of being new even if it is not."

She questioned how journalists could be motivated to change, "particularly the older ones", and reported that while start-ups showed their ability to innovate, legacy and bigger companies found this more difficult. "To be successful there must be a top-down and change-friendly culture," Kretzschmar said.

Schibstead Norway's Morten Wickstrom attributed much of the company's success in the Scandanavian country to having a very good distribution system: "We can reach every home in Norway, where 40 per cent read newspapers and 70 per cent have a digital subscription."

"Innovation is quite like Lego and we have all the pieces," he said, "So we have launched new magazine products, and then our own retail stores to sell our mags.

"Among our many innovations is a series of one-off magazines - we make more money that way - and recent progress in digital print allows us to offer on-demand mags, so we plan to launch more products and loyalty programmes," said Wickstrom.

Maggie Coleman

Pictured (from top): Kurt Sabathil of Schwäbisch Media, Sonja Kretzschmar of Universität der Bundeswehr and Morten Wickstrom of Schibsted

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