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.  


Video and the men’s market: natural allies


One of the great booms of the internet has been the rise of video. There are now a staggering 1 billion unique views of YouTube a month, with more than 72 hours of video Imagebeing uploaded a minute. 4 billion hours of video are now watched on YouTube alone[1].

And that is just on YouTube. IGN Entertainment records almost 35 million + views in video each month alone – with content ranging from simple video reviews, to conversations about games, to demos and interviews with leading developers[2]. It knows what it’s audience wants to see, and uses video to augment that experience – the majority of print content has an accompanying video piece.

It’s a slick operation. All of these videos are generally (unless it is a particularly compelling piece of content) under ten minutes long. And if you look into reports, it is a male dominated market: a study done in 2009 picked up on the fact that 77% of users are in the under-35 market, while 60% of users are male[3].

For men, then, video is the superior medium of engagement. It explains why porn smashed the men’s market so effectively (you can see my post on this on the attached footnote)[4]. And increasingly, companies are recognizing the effectiveness turning their magazine and media brands into channels of their own.

Conde Nast, for example, is making big moves into the content game: their new entertainment president (Dawn Ostroff) is focusing on building content across platforms to turn them into broad offerings – notably talking branded web series as one major output of their efforts[5].

And both IGN Entertainment and Conde Nast aren’t the only ones. Brightcove has built a platform specifically to help sell video advertising for publishers – a move that highlights the moves that Hearst, Time and others have begun to make toward the video age[6]. Video is quickly becoming the medium of choice to complement and expand a content offering.

All of this points to a merger between the traditional ‘TV’ channels and the publishers. And with advances in technology rapidly smashing the cost of broadcast quality production and distribution, it only becomes a matter of time before these organizations come into direct competition.

In some cases, they already have: Amazon (the noted book publisher) recently made the move to launch a series of pilots that indicate their move into video, film and TV streaming[7]. Instead of the traditional focus group pilot launch, however, they have built a different model: use data to inform their response on the investment into a TV show[8].

That is a radically different approach to the traditional channel, and one which relies on a couple of factors. Firstly, they aren’t restricted in terms of geographical viewership – in fact, digital means geography is largely no object. These days, you can launch a web series that can be viewed in England, Australia and the US and group it around an interest instead.

In essence, video and content is no longer constrained by channel. And so instead of focusing on ‘how can we hit as many people in this area as possible’ (see shows like the news, which reports on such an array of topics there has to be some wastage), you now have the ability to work out how many people exist around an interest group/market, and can you build a product around them.

The men’s market will find this key. Having the ability to build around male interests, whether that be sport, or something else, will be a real trait in the future, and producing the kinds of video content that reaches into those interests will be crucial. Look at the ongoing success of shows like Top Gear, any number of spy shows (Burn Notice for example) and even watching the cricket for good examples.

Men are always looking for the next gripping piece of ongoing content to latch onto. That used to be the weekly FHM, with a series of lewd jokes and other bawdy articles. These days, though, expect the next big men’s site to be one packed with video content, integrating in great digital journalism.

Here are some hypotheticals:

  • Esquire TV: all around cool guy routines, upmarket. A show about stockbrokers (think a Suits style show) combined with articles about their style guides, how to get ahead against your boss.
  • FHM TV: a jackass style show, replete with best office pranks (and video of) and articles about flirting with that hot girl (you can see a video of guys taking a crack at a hot girl, even if fictional, being cool here).
  • Men’s Health TV: workout routines for your morning run, articles on health and fitness, best songs to listen to whilst you work out.

You can see all these types of products working: and what’s more, you know that the media companies themselves will drive that discovery process far more efficiently than companies like Google (YouTube) and Vimeo ever could. They’ll be able to use the data and insights, combined with storytelling, to facilitate the process of discovery across these platforms.

And discovery will be key: producing those TV shows so men are relying and trusting you to provide them with their content, rather than them doing the legwork.

In short: video is going to be big business for the men’s market. It will be a way to reinvigorate the product back around interests in a compelling and interesting way: and will almost certainly see publishers attacking the mass-market television studios in the not-so-distant future.