Has distribution fundamentally shifted towards audiences?

Once upon a time, in the age of print, you had the newsstand. Magazines were put on shelves through unique distribution deals – in Australia, for example, distribution deals have existed between the likes of Bauer, Pacific and News with groups such as the Australian Newsagents Federation.

They built strong, locked up distribution networks that saw dominant publishing monopolies and large scale distributions become the necessity for the media industry. And it meant that consumers, who by and large only saw publications through major newsagents, had all their demand funneled through the newsagent model.

It meant that the process of ‘discovery’ – or finding a media product that you did not previously know about, was largely limited to what you saw inside of a newsstand, and it meant that this process of discovery was tightly controlled by dominant publishers.

This meant that things like covers, mastheads and subscriptions became crucial to making a magazine profitable, and ensuring it hit a mainstream, newsstand dependent demographic. It also meant, psychologically, it was hard to sell subjects that were not socially conventional – to discover a magazine, or media product, you generally either did it at the Television (monopoly) or newsstand (monopoly).

Flash forward to today.

Today, discovery has been fundamentally shifted. You’ve got social media, the digital app store (which uses micro targeting/advertising to make recommendations to audiences), email, search engines to compete with.

This isn’t to mention the increasingly diminished costs of print and the targeting it generates: leading to the rise of the freemium brand of magazine (think titles like mx in Australia, Shortlist and the Evening Standard in the UK).

All of these have shifted the discovery process away from the traditional, and tightly controlled, newsstand model – in the process democratising the media landscape further. So what does this mean for media publishing?

Well, for one, it means that there is going to be more of a multi-channel purpose. Your product, in itself, now takes on far greater importance than before against your newsstand deal. Working out how to disseminate your product in the most efficient way suddenly becomes the new aim of the game.

Take one of my often used examples: Shortlist. They knew that their product was a free men’s weekly – and that social would be an important way to showcase this interest. They host covers and post articles in digital, distribute free weekly and create a product built around an audience.

In other words, rather than relying on an audience that is coming to them, they go to their audience. It’s a remarkably efficient way of publishing that means the audience is engaged, you understand their aggregate points and match your media alongside that journey.

Another great example of this is a less insurgent brand: Esquire. In recent years, Esquire have worked out that their product is not just a ‘media’ specific brand, but instead meets a lifestyle need. They’ve pushed out apps, iPad stores, strong social and a product line.

Now, Esquire creates ties, furniture and consumer goods based off its brand. It saw an audience need and it met it.

The key lesson is that publishing has changed – and for magazines, focusing on the newsstand no longer can be the priority. When digital gives you so many ways to circumvent traditional distribution, and so many ways to get closer to your audience, it means that you can more aggressively target them.

What does this mean for the future? Well, expect an element of media creation and products to be built around creating and generating distribution. This means thinking about social content, talkability, daily reach and mapping out the content journey of a media product – thinking about how it touches your audience throughout their media consumption habits.

Getting this right will be the foundation for the future of media – rather than the traditional newsstand tactics of the past. It will mean having a focus on building multi-channel touchpoints to ensure interest in your brand, rather than trying to hook audiences at a single aggregation point.

In essence, distribution of the future is simple: build it around your audiences. And that is exactly what the best companies in the world are now doing.  

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