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Key publishing insights from media leaders at Mx3 conference in Berlin

Media Makers Meet, organized by Di5rupt, is a new event for B2B and specialist media owners from across Europe. A hundred media leaders from DACH, East Europe, Nordics, Southern Europe, Benelux, UK and US met for two days to discuss business models, building value, revenue sources, events, data, marketing, product development, and even the metaverse. The discussions were under Chatham House rules, but these were the key (anonymized) insights shared by expert consultant, Carolyn Morgan.        

1. Market trends and challenges

The economic and political environment for specialist media is challenging, with advertising weakening, talent shortages worsening and paper prices spiraling. But in difficult times, business and specialist audiences need quality information more than ever, so by staying closer to our customers and becoming adaptable and flexible, specialist media can evolve and thrive.

2. Diversify revenues

Specialist media owners are already thinking laterally to discover new revenue streams to serve their audiences.

  • Communications agency – tapping into changes in B2B marketing spend – incremental revenue but harder to scale and less predictable than publishing
  • Virtual events – although many events have gone back to face to face, in some markets (eg midwives) customers prefer virtual
  • E-learning – German publishers offering self-paced digital modules augmented with group sessions
  • Audience data – tracking insights and behavior on audiences and selling as a separately priced research package to advertisers (not individual data).
  • Membership
    – free entry level communities that nurture people towards paid-for propositions
    – paid memberships that encourage engagement and contribution to content
    – VIP or premium memberships offering high level networking to senior executives
  • Workflow solutions – many German publishers are developing online checklists, professional development platforms, legal summaries or recruitment tools that are digitally delivered and integrated into subscribers’ daily workflow.

3. Print to Digital

For many publishers, digital is now over half of ads and reader revenue. While older readers may be accustomed to print, younger readers prefer digital only. Digital formats such as newsletters are a low-investment route for NPD.

Rising print prices (up to 60% yoy) are accelerating decisions to switch away from print. Several publishers have reduced frequency significantly. Print may be retained as an optional, premium subscription. In specialist consumer, print still has greater utility and can be collectible. Cover prices may need a significant adjustment upwards. There’s an analogy with growth of vinyl in the music industry.

4. Subscription growth

Most specialist media are investing in growing subscriptions, to increase stability of revenues. News content alone is rarely sufficient for paid subs. In depth analysis, or exclusive content has greater value. Briefings or insights that are future focussed, that help readers with their daily work tasks, can achieve a premium price. Data-driven or pricing information that is fundamental to commercial success commands the highest subs rates – typically €10k or more.

B2B publishers are focussing on corporate or enterprise subs that provide team access to services. Once the budget holder is identified, corporate subs provide better retention and stability when readers change jobs.

5. Event innovation

Market leading events (or those that aspire to market leadership) have to lead, to innovate, and deliver exciting and inspiring experiences for delegates. Post pandemic, the appetite for human interaction to learn or do business has returned. Organizers need to surprise, challenge, and inspire. Repeating a format year after year is a recipe for long term decline. Premium ticket prices for delegates force organizer to deliver an excellent experience, rather than serve the needs of exhibitors. Delegates are becoming more selective in attending events, but there is scope for highly relevant quality conferences.

6. M&A

M&A activity in media is growing. Along with traditional trade or strategic buyers, private equity is increasingly interested in specialist media. While some sellers prefer trade buyers who will provide a career path and benefits for their staff, PE usually pays more. PE buyers will intensely manage new businesses, taking a forensic approach to KPIs and procedures. They prefer management with prior experience of PE, and the attrition rate is high. Advice from an experienced CEO is to build relationships with the entire investment committee, and proactively inform them of market changes and challenges. Most will plan to sell within 3-5 years.

How to prepare your business for sale to make it more attractive to a buyer? A market leadership in a strong growing market, high retention, good audience insight, developed processes and KPIs, and ability to apply your business model to new markets all help.

7. Data

All publishers must invest in building first party data, to establish stronger direct relationships with customers and better insights into behavior and topics of interest. Analytics are invaluable in planning content development and also have a value to advertisers. A large UK publisher uses Adobe Target to offer tailored online offers to “unknown” readers based on their content behavior to encourage them to sign up for specialist newsletters or events. They plan to grow the proportion of readers for whom they have data from 30% to 60% over the next two years.

8. New content forms

Publishers are exploring new forms of content beyond traditional articles.

  • Newsletters are resurgent, and provide an intimate connection with readers as well as a low-cost route for NPD.
  • Podcasts can build brand authority and personality with a good host. While numbers are low, engagement is high, and there are more routes to monetize from sponsorship to licensing or events.
  • Audio and video can work for niche audiences – in Germany there is a “radio station” for craftsmen and TV for plumbers. Zetland has built its success on audio versions of its articles.
  • Repackaging content can extend the reach and life of original editorial. One UK niche publisher is growing its US audience through a dedicated team who repackage editorial into evergreen and multi-media formats, focussing on best practice and take outs, and using SEO and social media to reach new audiences.

9. B2B marketing

The keys to successful B2B marketing are relevance, science (ie data), content to gain earned media, and measurement. Buyers prefer to self-research before talking to a sales person, so marketers must provide online information to guide them through the marketing funnel. Before selecting your tech platforms, audit your current marketing, and work out how to deliver effective processes manually before you automate. If starting from scratch, hire in an experienced market leader, then expand the team with part-time specialists and bright digital natives willing to learn new skills.

10. Product thinking

User focus is at the core of product thinking, and a willingness to adapt products to suit changing needs. A good product manager has to negotiate requirements of the business, the user and the tech team. But out of conflict, magic and innovation can arise. Product teams must be empowered by senior management. Outsourced tech teams add to the challenge – so communication and shared culture are even more important. Media businesses starting from scratch would do well to hire in an experienced product lead from another sector.

11. Metaverse and web 3

Media businesses may feel they are in the “trough of disillusionment” on the metaverse. But some start-ups are gaining traction offering specialist e-commerce or using gaming platforms like Fortnite to co-create content for brands. The collapse of crypto was a setback, but UX is improving and there are more opportunities to purchase using credits cars or apple pay. When will it take off? Maybe two years, maybe ten, but a good place to experiment and test is augmented reality (AR) around events or magazines.

12. Gen Z

Contrary to assumptions, Gen Z like to consume long form, documentary, and factual content. More wary of social media and suspicious of misinformation than Millennials, they are highly aware of diversity and inclusion issues and may shun brands or organizations not taking it seriously. They may seek new routes into the workplace such as placements or apprenticeships, rather than university. B2B media need to develop new ways to attract talent from Gen Z, both for their own businesses and to advise the organizations who read their titles.


More Media Makers Meet events are planned in Europe, a chance to connect and converse with a diverse group of media leaders. I moderated five sessions over the event and enjoyed learning more about how B2B and specialist media are evolving.

If you’d like to discuss any of the issues and insights in more depth, do get in touch for a virtual or in person coffee.