Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ten Words That Summarize What Happened to Publishing in 2014

OK, fellow publishing fans, you can’t be ready to face this new year without understanding what happened in 2014. Here are the 10 words (yes, “magazine media” and “native advertising” are single words) that summarize the year that just was, along with links that provide further information:

1) Quorum: Demonstrating its indifference to one of the nation’s largest employers, Congress failed to act on fix vacancies on the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors, causing it to lose its quorum. It’s yet another example of USPS’s “Congressional oversight” turning into “Congressional overlooking,” except when there’s a chance to name post offices. And it's another reminder to publishers of magazines and daily newspapers that our primary means of distribution is still at risk.

Leaked Google document showed its preference for web sites
associated with print brands.
2) Penguin: As they watched their search-related web traffic soar, magazine and newspaper publishers came to realize that the evil empire of Google had now turned friendly. With its Penguin and Panda algorithm tweaks and other enhancements, the search giant increasingly referred people to credible web sites anchored by trustworthy print brands. Late in the year, Facebook also jumped onto the We Love Print Brands bandwagon.

3) Magazine media: Magazine people laughed at first at this new moniker for our industry. But now that a few magazines get a majority of their revenue from digital media and almost all have branched out into multiple non-magazine ventures, 2014 was the year the MPA-created term began to stick. We're not just magazine publishers any more, we tell anyone who will listen, but we're still having trouble figuring out exactly how to describe ourselves. That’s in stark contrast with daily newspaper publishers, who know exactly what they are: Screwed, unless they can find a patient billionaire to buy them.

Wholesaler's bankruptcy led to empty magazine racks.
4) Niche: Every month, it seemed, brought another web site that decided to delve into the magazine business, mostly with highly targeted publications. But the traditional consumer-magazine world of bloated circulation and egos continued shrinking, with stalwarts like Ladies Home Journal shutting down, others reducing their ratebase, and a major magazine newsstand distributor going belly up. A testament to the industry’s increased nichification: The number of U.S. magazines keeps growing, but the nation’s coated-paper industry finished the year with half the capacity it had just 11 years ago.

5) Antitrust: The U.S. Justice Department didn’t bat an eye when Quad/Graphics turned the large-publication printing market into a virtual duopoly by buying out Brown Printing. But it dithered for nearly the full year about the proposed merger of ailing paper makers Verso and NewPage, finally approving the deal on Dec. 31 -- but only after a major divestiture. These, after all, are the same antitrust geniuses who, deciding Amazon’s 90% share of the ebook market wasn’t big enough, went after Apple and major book publishers.

A destroyer of printed books and magazines? Nope.
6) Plateau: Even the enthusiasts who predicted a few years ago that ebooks would soon dominate the book scene finally started admitting in 2014 that ebook sales in the U.S. had reached a plateau, with a market share of less than 25%. Another supposedly disruptive force, digital magazines, also ran out of steam after achieving a much smaller share of the U.S. magazine market. The collapse of digital magazines is being aided by consumers’ shift from tablets to smartphones and abetted by Apple’s incompetence and indifference, as demonstrated by the woeful state of its Newsstand app.

7) Accountability: Advertisers began awakening to the reality that they were being duped by social-media marketing enthusiasts (“Let’s get everyone on Facebook to join the conversation about our toothpaste!”), content-marketing hucksters, and advertising impressions targeted at bots. Kraft even fired most of its advertising agencies, apparently deciding that targeting ads to people who Google “gang rape” is not the best strategy for selling “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product" (Velveeta).

8) Measurement: With the rising emphasis on accountability came a growing interest in measurement. The advertising industry started pushing for new ways to measure how many people see a web ad, and for how long, after realizing that a majority of the advertising “impressions” served by ad networks were never visible to an actual human being. Meanwhile, the MPA moved the goalposts on the measures of magazines’ success, emphasizing growing web audiences and omitting the depressing news about trends in ad pages.

9) FutureMark: The closure of FutureMark Paper, which was the only North American manufacturer that made coated paper containing mostly recycled fiber, provided stark evidence of a troubling development: Publishers, and perhaps the public, seem to have lost interest in using environmentally friendly paper. Or perhaps they are having trouble distinguishing between “green” and “non-green” papers.

10) Native advertising: Pundits, editors, and marketers spent the entire year debating whether native advertising was a savior or sellout for publishers. It would help if the debaters could agree on a definition for what they’re arguing about. Is it native only if it masquerades as editorial content? Does native necessarily involve the co-opting of journalists? What’s clear is that marketers are becoming disillusioned with banner ads but still see the web sites of reputable publishers as attractive venues for engaging the hearts and minds of potential customers.

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