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Five Lessons from 2017

2017 was a year.

I know…that seems obvious. But 2017 was loaded with the good, the bad, and some lessons learned from it all. Here are 5 that jumped out at me as we finish up 2017:

1. Publishers are moving into membership models
Some years ago, we had a publishing client who published books and magazines around various special interests. But you couldn’t “subscribe” to the products; you had to be a “member” to get them. Their belief was that a “member” was more loyal than a “subscriber.” Given the interest areas they served (hunting and fishing and the like) I suspect that their low attrition rates were also due to the passion of their readers, rather than exclusively due to a clever marketing ploy around the word “member.” But lo and behold, Meredith (who is in the process of buying Time, Inc.) launched a membership model this year. And other major players are testing out their own membership approaches. It’s a good thing we developed Members Advantage in 2016 to meet the demands of publishers moving in this direction. We developed it for membership associations, many of whom publish. But it is a perfect, integrated solution for publishers who have members.

2. Print will be around, more or less, for the foreseeable future, but it depends on which audience whether it’s more or it’s less
Let’s take the print/digital comparison down a level into different types of publishing:

Scholarly/STM/Academic journal publishers started making their content digital 20 years ago. (Wow – that went fast!) Some of these big journal publishers later went back into their archives and scanned all the old print journals (pre-mid-90s) to get them digitized as well. The print versions of such journals are pretty much relegated to libraries now. Very few researchers, especially in quickly developing fields like medicine, are interested in waiting around to read articles in print, when they can find them instantly online. Additionally, for many of these readers, the institution to which they are attached pays for the access, so it’s “free” to them personally.

For Business-to-Business publishers, the classic model had them depending on print advertising revenue to keep the lights on. Many of these publishers have kept print alive, even though their advertising is a fraction of what it used to be. The thickness of the magazines is proof enough that advertisers are taking their money elsewhere, and digital advertising is nowhere near where everyone had hoped it would be by 2017. Consolidation has been the name of the B2B publishing game for some years now as a way of reducing costs to get in line with the reduced revenues.

For Consumer/Special Interest publishers, print is now perceived as a luxury, and people are willing to pay for it. Yes, even Millennials and Generation Xers. Just get on any airplane and look at the number of people reading magazines. We are moving closer and closer to a world where people can be connected all the time (WiFi is now on planes, trains, automobiles and buses). Once this is complete, there will no longer be the necessity for print, but there will most assuredly be a preference for it.

With regard to books, particularly trade, it’s more driven by preference, I believe. Some people love their eReaders, and others love their hardbacks, paperbacks, and that smell of ink on paper.

3. Technological advances in one industry affect other industries profoundly
I recently sat through a talk at a conference which really struck me. The speaker was discussing self-driving cars. Once they are ready for mass public consumption, numerous other industries will be impacted. For example, the car insurance business and body shops as there will be fewer accidents, the healthcare business as there will be fewer victims of accidents coming into the ER, and even outdoor advertising---with more passengers and fewer drivers, more people will be reading the billboards. Also, it's likely that car ownership will decrease because people will just “subscribe” to a car, getting it only when they need it. Will we still need 3-car garages in the US? How about our giant parking lots at big offices? Or malls? How this will all transform will be fascinating to watch. I still hear people say self-driving cars will never “take.” They sound like the manufacturers of horse-drawn carriages in the first decade of the last century when they heard about the “horseless carriage.” It is happening. When people see that they are safer than human-driven cars, they will change their tune.

4. Machines are becoming smarter than people, and that can be scary
The advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are astounding---way beyond what many of us think, and organizations and individuals must be prepared for machines to take over many jobs in the not-so-distant future. One prediction I heard was that 47% of US jobs are at risk for being replaced by machines. (No timeline was given.) Artificial intelligence is developed to the point where art, movie scripts, and music are now being authored by machines. The machine is the artist! Couple that with the exponential, massive increases in computing speed, and the results are the stuff of dreams. One example, Quantum computers, could solve problems which would take the fastest supercomputers millions of years to solve – in milliseconds. This is not a misprint.

The question for each of us is, where is my value-add? What do I know or know how to do that a machine can’t do? One of those things is relating with other people. We are humans, and humans need interaction with other humans to survive. That’s why we have relationships: friends, families, colleagues and classmates. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d like a robot to teach me in a classroom.

5. Life is short – spend time with those you love
In February of this year, my mother passed away at the age of 88. Her life was surprisingly “short.” When you’re 25, 88 sounds like a century away. When you’re 59, like me, you’re already 2/3 of the way there! A friend of mine just became a widower. I’m sure he would pay money to have just a little more time with his wife. Let’s remember why we do what we do – it’s to provide sustenance for our families – for those we love. Let’s remember that work/life balance which will, in the end, make us better workers and better people. The time spent with our loved ones is priceless, and has an impact that we may never see. What we do and say can affect those around us deeply. I recently witnessed a man honor his father for all the ways this father mentored and helped him. His father confided in me later that he’d had no idea that his words had made such an impact on his son.

I wish you all a blessed, prosperous New Year in 2018, and we look forward to working with you on some cool, new technologies!

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