Why Are Smart Publishers Selling Off Some of Their Books, Newsletters and Magazines?

Do you have the online publishing resources to go “multiplatform” in all your markets?

There’s a realignment happening in the publishing world. Even the largest publishers, with the deepest pockets, realize they must focus, consolidate and specialize.

Sometimes it seems to me as though book, newsletter, and magazine publishers are trading titles like I used to swap baseball cards as a kid.

Over the past 30 years — about the length of my publishing career — there has been continuous consolidation and reorganization in our industry, with single-title, independent publishers routinely buying each other’s publications, and becoming multi-title, multi-audience publishers.

Prior to the Internet, this made sense because it enabled publishers to leverage the buying of printing and fulfillment services, and to sell a network of advertising.

But now, the smartest publishers are changing the mix. There’s a realignment happening in the publishing world. Even the largest publishers, with the deepest pockets, realize they must focus, consolidate and specialize.

With 115+ titles, Time, Inc. is the largest magazine publisher in the U.S. Its popular brands and successful franchises extend to online, television, cable video on demand, satellite radio, mobile devices, events and branded products.

Time’s websites attract more than 26 million unique visitors each month — more than any other magazine publisher — and serve close to 2 billion page views each month.

Yet in January 2007, Time sold 18 magazines to the Swedish publishing giant Bonnier Group. These included Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, TransWorld Snowboarding, Yachting, Salt Water Sportsman, Parenting and Baby Talk.

Time, Inc. is a division of Time Warner, a multimedia behemoth whose revenues for 2008 were $47 billion. Bonnier is a 200-year-old company with about $2.9 billion in annual revenue.

Ann Moore, chairman and chief executive officer, Time Inc., continues to transform her empire into a multiplatform publishing company that creates, sells, aggregates and delivers outstanding branded content.

So why did Ann Moore sell off 18 profitable assets?

Because today’s smart strategy is specialization, consolidation and focus for the multiplatform publisher who wants to profit from magazines, books, television, events and online content.

Even a giant like Time, Inc. recognizes that it doesn’t have the resources to develop across multiple platforms for dozens of different brands.

Consider the case of publisher Chris Kimball, who in the early years of this decade owned a mix of gardening, handcraft, health and cooking magazines. His company, Boston Common Press, sold off the gardening, handcraft, and health magazines in order to focus on cooking. Today, his publishing empire, now known as America’s Test Kitchen, dominates a niche that includes television, video, online, magazines, and books.

Chris Kimball looked into the future, realized the potential of online and multiplatform publishing, and decided to consolidate, focus and specialize. And thrive!

We’ve written a case study of how publisher Cindy Carter realized the value of consolidation, focus and specialization. She realigned her business several years ago, resulting in the highly successful and profitable FDA News.

The Meredith Publishing Group features 25 subscription magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Parents, American Baby, Fitness, and More, and publishes more than 200 special interest publications under approximately 80 titles. Additionally, Meredith has an extensive Internet presence that includes 31 websites and strategic alliances with leading Internet destinations.

David Ball, Vice President/Consumer Marketing for Meredith, says his company’s online strategy is to develop the Better Homes and Gardens website as its home decorating and gardening hub, but not build extensive websites for its other shelter publications such as Traditional Home, Living the Country Life, and Nature’s Garden.

Likewise, Meredith has decided to put the majority of its parenting content at the Parents magazine website, instead of launching multiple websites for Family Circle, American Baby, and Parents.

The trend is to unify online businesses under one dominant brand.

Do you homework and review your options

So what should you do if you have a moderately profitable publishing company — of nearly any size — operating in only one or two markets, and realize you need to build out your online business? Perhaps you’re in books and magazines, but now you need to expand into live events and online.

First, you need to do an online market analysis to see who already operates in your space online. You may think you know what companies are already there, but you may be surprised!

You probably know the traditional publishers, but you may be shocked to discover that there are entrepreneurial, or venture capital funded startups in your marketplace. The scale of online publishing is such that their online audience may be multiples of yours!

Are they competitors or potential marketing partners? Find out, then consider your options.

Option #1 is to get out. Do what Anne Moore of Time, Inc. and did and sell off the brands that can’t compete, or that you can’t afford to build out.

Perhaps you publish magazines, but not books. Or you publish books but not magazines. Or you conduct events, but don’t have a print publication.

If you’re under-developed in multiple areas, you might consider selling. Two benefits: Selling off an asset enables you to focus your attention on other, more profitable assets. And selling generates cash, with which you can realign your company around the market groups that you choose to keep.

Option #2 is to buy. If you’ve completed your online market analysis and you’re committed to your market, regardless of the assets you currently hold, look for a publisher who is jettisoning their marginal assets and concentrating in a different market.

The goal is to leverage content, editorial expertise, and marketing experience across several platforms.

Going forward, it’s more economical to own a brand — across a platform that includes magazines, books, events, online, and video — than to try to compete with a single platform in too many niche markets.

If you need step by step instructions on how to conduct an online market audit and discover which brands to save (and which ones to sell), we’ve just uploaded a new module to our Mequoda Pro online seminars library called Online Market Analysis.

Become a Mequoda Pro member, and build your own online market audit now. In Mequoda Pro, we even include a sample spreadsheet to get you started and an MP3 of the session to listen to on your iPod. Register for Mequoda Pro today!


    Good post.

    Doesn’t the mequoda model contradict this advice? By that I mean, the mequoda team replicates it’s model through clients (and, I believe, projects in which you are investors) again and again in multiple niches.

    Why shouldn’t publishers do the same with their business models whether they are mequoda models or adapted mequoda models or alternatives?


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