What is the future for publishers when social media platforms deliver your content and Facebook knows your audience better than you? 

More than 70 publishers and editors joined Page Lizard’s 2025: Visions for the Future of Publishing event last night to face some of the challenges the next ten years brings. The threats identified ranged from the accelerating speed of change, to ad blockers, the rise of Facebook as a publisher and the challenge of converting the millennial generation to be paying consumers.

“No one is immune to change”

Diane Young opened the evening with wise words of advice. “As publishers, it is so important that we don’t follow the status quo, and instead look forward.” She then took us through some predictions from the past which seem absurd now, from “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a fad” to “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share,” highlighting the precariousness of making such assertions about the future.

A journey through the history of significant changes at The Drum brought forward a noticeable trend; that the rate of change in technology has rapidly accelerated since The Drum’s foundation in 1984, particularly in the last few years. Diane also showed how revenues had changed; from 100% made up of print advertising in 1985 to less than 9% in 2015 – events, web advertising and subscriptions making up the bulk of the remaining 91%.

12674835_10153925515778615_822765938_o_smallDiane’s SWOT analysis of publishing’s strengths and weaknesses was delivered in emoji form, much to the audience’s amusement, and covered topics like editorial quality, control, long-form content and multiple channels. She reminded publishers that no industry is immune to this change, before bringing up the hot topic of the evening: ad blocking. “Ad blockers could potentially have a £41 million impact on the digital industry” she warned, before bringing us to her thoughts for 2025.

“As well as the threats, there are plenty of potential opportunities – have faith!” Diane said. The people that will thrive in the future are the ones who can learn, unlearn and relearn as new technologies develop and call for ever-evolving roles and skills.

In line with many industry experts, Diane predicted that the print magazine will still be around in 10 years time, but will be a luxury item. She also saw the role of publishers evolving into “collaters and sellers of audience and information” where the needs of the community are serviced.

“Content always has been and always will be king,” Diane went on to say, “but delivery will be queen, and personalisation will be prince!”. One thing that does seem certain is that Virtual Reality headsets won’t be as large, and that readers will be able to immerse themselves in publishing content in new and exciting ways.

“I have one prediction I can make with complete confidence,” Diane said in her closing remarks. “Everything will still take the web team twice as long as they said and three times as long as you thought they needed.”

“It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future”

Paul Lomax took us 10 years back into the past, before making his predictions. “So much of what we depend on today simply didn’t exist in 2006” he reminded us. On 4th February 2006. there was no iPad, no App Store, no Facebook (in the UK), no Twitter and no iPhones. “Could we have predicted 2016 would be like this?” Paul asked, highlighting how difficult it is to look forward 10 years.

Paul took us back to one prediction he had made in 2007, that Facebook would one day be the new Google. “Perhaps it’s the new Internet (albeit privately owned)” he guessed, and with Facebook edging ahead of Google in referrals to publishers’ websites, this is looking increasingly likely.

12695605_10153925618828615_899976802_o_smallCiting Dennis’ app store revenue between 2011 and 2016, Paul cautioned that it was easy to get carried away when estimating the effect of technology in the short run. The end of 2011 saw huge spikes in app store revenue, but over time this has plateaued and is slowly but surely declining. Their perspective at Dennis is to see digital editions as the same product, but a different medium along with the print editions and the website.

Paul’s first prediction was his most controversial; that Google Chrome will include ad blocking by default. “It’s not as far-fetched as you might think,” he argued. “It’s only a couple of years since Chrome blocked pop-ups by default – a change which went unnoticed by most people.” Only Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)-acceptable ads would be exempt, which would make inroads into cleaning up the web.

Then Paul predicted that platforms would overtake websites for reaching audiences. The focus will no longer be on driving traffic to websites, and Paul argued that this was starting to happen on a large scale with Facebook’s Instant Articles, which has now been quietly rolled out across the UK.

Paul’s final prediction was that print magazines would continue to exist, but there would be far fewer available. He gave three examples of the types of magazines that will still be around; those that provide a service (like The Week), the ‘coffee table’ magazines (like Cyclist) or those that are put into people’s hands, like Coach.

The panelists were then invited to offer their insights, and the conversation quickly turned to the issue of monetisation. Rebekah Billingsley gave an impassioned argument for publishers to unite against Google, Facebook and Apple. “We have an opportunity to protect the way in which our content is distributed,” she said, but admitted that it already seems to be too late.

The millennial panel were quick to join the debate, which swung between issues of ad blocking and consumer habits as the audience and panelists looked to understand how 20-somethings engage with media. There was a collective gasp as the millennials dropped one truth bomb – not a single one of their peers have ever bought a print magazine. More discussion revealed the reasons for this: millennials spent their teenage years on their phones rather than reading magazines, and those habits stick.

The evening ended with networking drinks, where lively debates about bundles, audiences, data and more carried on late into the night.  The team here at Page Lizard would like to thank everyone for their support, contributions and insights, particularly the speakers and panelists: Paul Lomax, Diane Young, Jez Walters, Rebekah Billingsley and Peter Houston.

A highlights video will be available early next week.

In the meantime, catch up with some of the discussion on Twitter using #PageLizardParty, and enjoy some snapshots of the drinks reception below.

 

 

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