Philippe van Mastrigt

AdvantageCS Management Roundtable – Sharing and Listening for New Ideas

This month, AdvantageCS hosted its annual management roundtable for its clients just prior to the Advantage Users Group conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. A group of executives representing a broad spectrum of publishing concerns ranging from data-only to print, from academic and B2B to B2C, from subscriptions to books, and from rapidly growing businesses to more declining markets.

Jeff Baker, American Master Products
Allison Belan, Duke University Press
Jeff Crosby, InterVarsity Press
Paul Gee, American Medical Association
Reid McLaughlin, Agora/14West
Laird Popkin, Hearst Transportation Group/Blackbook
Tara Rebak, Newsmax Media
Bonnie Roche, Crain Communications
Tim Swietek, Ogden Publications

As usual, we wonder beforehand how the group dynamics will work with such a variety of situations and challenges. But there is much in common, even if the segments of the publishing industry differ, and insights from another segment always provide input for new ideas. Some important trends also pop up that allow the group to focus on upcoming or existing challenges.

The roundtable format was similar to previous meetings. Each participant was given 15-20 minutes to describe their goals and priorities for the next year, challenges they are facing, and what keeps them awake at night. The conversation then opened up for questions and comments from other participants. Each situation raises issues of interest to the other participants, and input reflects differing points of view. All participants see rapid changes in their landscape, so listening to how others manage similar changes provides inspiring ideas. Changes include how the product is consumed, as well as in the market the publisher covers and therefore the service it needs to provide, especially in the academic and B2B world.

Among the book publishers, the dependency on Amazon is certainly a major challenge. When a large part of your business comes from such a large vendor, the future feels risky. Some publishers have decided to stop selling on Amazon and keep control of their full distribution process.

Among the scholarly publishers, open access (a movement to provide free access for content, as it has already been paid by taxes or authors) remains a major topic. Even though this discussion has been going on for the last 20 years, the pressure on this model is increasing, even outside of STM (scientific, technical, medical) publishing.

Among all the participants, revenue diversification and cross-fertilization are key, when traditional publishing business models are declining. When a strong community exists around a brand, events and product diversification may be viable revenue streams. Education can also be a good direction, which sometimes means building partnerships with other providers. Podcasts are being explored more but could be used at least as a marketing effort to promote writers and publishing. Offering the content in different formats and continuity options is another path worth exploring. Additional services around brands are always welcome. And, of course, more niche products may be a way to expand income in a publisher’s existing customer portfolio. This can cause cross-fertilization. For example, a good speaker at an event can lead to a book (and a new writer). A TV show can lead to a subscription to some content sold by another division.

Technology and systems are right in the mix of these topics, and there is a permanent need to reevaluate which tools are required, and how those tools connect with the Advantage platform. Supporting the agility that the business now demands is key. New tools are popping up, such as dynamic paywalls. Payment processing is another increasingly complex area, especially in an international environment. A holistic customer approach can enable the cross-fertilization strategy to improve results.

A networking dinner in the wine room at French Quarter restaurant Tableau provided a more casual time to make connections and enjoy fine food and wine, surrounded by hundreds of bottles.

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