Time Out for the Publishing Industry?

The hard-copy publishing industry seems to be in terminal decline right now. Stories of doom continue to circulate – The Cranky Geeks Podcast was recently speculating that San Francisco might be the first major US city to go completely digital, as the demise of the San Francisco Chronicle seems imminent.

Actually, newspapers have been in decline for many years, but the rise of digital is seriously trying to close the coffin lid. Not only do many people prefer to get their news as it happens, have features like searchable listings, but free online ad listings (like Craig’s List) have decimated the revenues and free online content, from blogs and journalists alike have undermined paid-for editorial.

All this is well documented, although as younger people enter the picture and the oldies die off, the situation seems to be getting progressively worse.

So far, no one seems to have found an answer, so I’m fascinated that the iconic City Guide, Time Out, has announced that it’s considering a new business model.

The idea is to provide the famous listings service online (and via mobile, one would hope!), while retaining the hard-copy as a free, controlled-circulation version. This seems a great solution and certainly one worth experimenting with. Time Out are fortunate that they can try this on a city by city basis, as they cover well over 100 cities in the world. Testing the concept in say, Sydney, wouldn’t force the other publications down this route if it didn’t work.

However, the format does seem allow the publisher to play to the different strengths of each medium. Listings are searchable, can be updated in real-time and are always accessible for last minute plans. It also means that the reader doesn’t have to lug around a copy of a magazine all week.

The hard-copy however is still important. Not only does it promote the listings service on a weekly basis, but reading of opinion and features is simply a better, more tactile experience than the current technology is ready to provide. You also can’t take digital media into the bath, which I happen to think is pretty important 🙂

As we’ve seen in the record industry, rapid change can happen when a tipping point occurs and many would argue that publishing is there today. The way to cope in these circumstances is accept change and recognise that it’s in times like these that big opportunities can emerge and to throw your company into vigourous experimentation. The other way is go into the grieving process so often seen in an industry facing times of great change, that I wrote more fully about here, but essentially involves going though the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.

The trouble is that by the time acceptance kicks in, it’s often too late to do much.

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