At yesterday’sin NYC, I had an interesting exchange with John Suhler, founding partner and president of Veronis Suhler Stevenson, and one of the deans of media industry private equity. Suhler had just given a talk in which I was glad to hear him excoriate publishers for the lack of attention they pay to technology and digital media as part of their strategies.
After his talk, I compared figures from our just-released market study on Digital Editions with his own off-the-cuff statistics about digital revenue for publishers, and the results were rather revealing. Our study shows a large gap between the readership penetration of digital editions in consumer vs. B-to-B (vertical) publications – whereas digital B2B subscriptions have grown to 15% of overall subscriptions, the corresponding figure for consumer pubs is down to 1.4%.
Compare these subscription figures with Suhler’s figures for digital revenue: 12-13% in B-to-B vs. 2-3% for consumer publications. This suggests that although digital editions are becoming a much more important ingredient in B-to-B publishers’ product mix, they are not quite carrying their share of digital revenue; whereas in consumer media, they are carrying more than their share, perhaps as much as double their share.
Of course, the missing ingredient in this admittedly superficial comparison is costs. For B-to-B publishers, digital editions can provide revenues at lower costs than fancy websites with lots of interactive features. In another presentation at yesterday’s conference, Andrew Heyward of interactive consultancy Marketspace/Monitor Group showed several examples of elaborate interactive websites that consumer media brands like Sports Illustrated launched in order to engage their audiences. I said to him that although these websites looked very cool, they struck me as very expensive to build, non-scalable (compared to advertising platforms like those of Google or Yahoo), and ephemeral in their appeal. He didn’t disagree.
For consumer publishers, the message in the above statistics could be mixed. In our study, noted publishing technology visionary Peter Meirs of Time Inc. is bearish on digital editions for consumer media. The statistics suggest either that consumer publishers are now taking that pessimism too far and under-investing in digital editions or that they don’t see a great long-term future for them. Comparisons in statistics like the above in future years will determine which of these messages is the correct one.