Yesterday evening, a group of some of the most influential people in UK publishing braved the temperamental British weather to discuss the publishing industry with Bo Sacks; a publishing and media guru from America.

Bo Sacks has been in publishing since 1970, and lays claim to authoring the longest-running e-newsletter in the world: “Heard on the Web: Media Intelligence”. This daily newsletter covers the good, bad and ugly news about the industry, with detailed commentary on statistics and insightful opinion pieces from around the publishing world.

We gathered at the Radio Rooftop Bar in London with phones and laptops at the ready to begin with a Tweetathon using the hashtag #AskBoSacks to gather questions and Bo’s answers on publishing and media-related questions.

It was impossible to be pessimistic about the state of the industry in the face of Bo’s relentlessly positive outlook. Questions came in thick and fast, from monetising video to millennial disruption and the transformation of print.

We’ve rounded up a selection of our favourite questions and answers from the tweetathon:

“You say ‘Golden age of publishing’. Why are you so optimistic?” – @wnip

 “How do you think millennials will change publishing? And when?!” – @EstherKeziaH

“Do you think ‘snackable’ content is key for the future of Digital Publishing consumption?” – @pagelizard

“Is print just ‘hard going’ for a generation wanting bite sized information?” – @martyneustace

“Is there money in video? And if so, how much?” – @Media_systems

After the tweetathon, we were joined by other top industry influencers from FIPP, Print Power, Kaldor, the Telegraph Media Group and more who were eager to share their insights and experiences with each other. Conversations with Bo covered a wide range of topics, but there were a couple of points in particular that provoked lively discussion.

Evolution of content

One trend causing concern among publishers is the increase in popularity of bitesize content, and one person asked Bo if longform content would eventually evolve into bitesized articles. Bo strongly disagreed, and believes that society has a foundation of skilled individuals (doctors, lawyers etc,) who will retain longform reading as an essential skill. This core of people have been there through history, and aren’t about to disappear.

Bo also expounded his views on the evolution of publishers, and why content is changing so rapidly for them. He explained that large publishers used to be established; there was little competition and they could very much dictate the way content was created. Now, smaller and faster publishers are proving very competitive, and stealing the time and eyeballs away from ‘traditional’ publications. He cited Buzzfeed as one strong example of this.

He pointed out that there has always been a disparity between the time people spend with print, and the advertising money spent on it. The statistics are not good for print – the proportion of time spent has dropped from 9% to around 4% in recent years, but ad spending hasn’t caught up with this drop. Instead, he focused on digital as the growth area, where there is a potential goldmine of a $30 million gap between the time spent on devices and the relative ad spend.

Ad blocking was another hot topic, but Bo insisted that the expectations are now different, and it is the addictive content that is surviving. There is very little difference between the success of content and its format, and there is no blanket answer to what works. Part of the key is finding out how people spend their time: whether that’s yoga, football or painting, and tapping in to that.

Bo’s magic formula for anyone producing content is short but sweet:

Passion + quality content = success

FIPP #video interviews going on at #media gathering. Videos to follow soon! #askbosacks #london

A photo posted by FIPP (@fippworld) on

Bo Sacks’ crystal ball

Much of the evening was dominated by discussions about the future. Bo echoed a view that we strongly believe in; that the future shouldn’t inhibit publishing, and that viewers/readers will continue to spread across different formats. ‘Reading is still important for society’, he said, ‘And video is not the holy grail some people believe it to be’.

“Video is not the future of publishing. It is a thing, not the thing.”

So, his advice to publishers on videomania? Video may be a hot buzzword right now, but be cautious of its limitations!

Bo left us with his top tips for producing great content. ‘How we define content and monetise it is important,’ he stated. ‘Just supplying content isn’t enough, and alternative revenue streams should be explored’. One example he cited was a horse magazine in the USA, which had recently begun to sell horse box insurance to its readers. It appears that extending brands and diversifying revenue streams will be the key to a successful publishing future. After all, publishing is a business, not a charity!

FIPP recorded a number of interviews with Bo and some other guests, and we’ll keep this page updated once those become available.

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