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James Hewes, FIPP: “If you miss the opportunities of the future, you will have no publishing business”

During an impassioned presentation at FIPP Insider in Lisbon, the CEO and President of FIPP, James Hewes, made it clear to the publishers present that failure to adapt to momentous change could cost them their entire media business.

Hewes cited the exponential tech adoption occurring across the world as proof that publishers not only needed to adapt but to do so speedily and courageously, saying, “Change is not linear, it moves in S-curves, with new technologies coming onto the market slowly but followed by sudden mass adoption.”

The rate of change is increasing – it took 68 years from the first flight to the 50 millionth passenger but only 19 days from the launch of Pokemon Go to the 50 millionth user.

James Hewes, CEO and President, FIPP
James Hewes, CEO and President, FIPP at FIPP Insider, Lisbon

Hewes then raised a smile amongst the assembled publishers by saying that the magazine business used to be a ‘pretty easy industry to work in’, citing Time magazine’s Man of the Year issue in 2000 as the ‘high water mark’ for the print media industry. He continued, “Meredith’s financial results from the year 2000 show a billion dollars of turnover, and almost a 25% EBITDA margin which was improving every year”, adding, “We all made great content and a lot of money”.

He then argued that it was the 2007-2009 financial crisis that triggered the steepest declines in the fortunes of print media, both in terms of circulation and advertising, adding that the underlying factor was the rise of digital media. Fast-forwarding to 2022, Hewes commented that print still had a future, but it would be radically different to the past.

Print won’t die, just as TV never killed radio, but it will change….you must reduce frequency, have higher production values, higher cover prices (€12-15), and each issue must be a distinct event.

James Hewes, CEO and President, FIPP

The importance of multiple revenue streams

Hewes continued by stating that the current challenges faced by all media businesses are matched by some of the greatest opportunities, imploring publishers to seize these digital media opportunities and not waste precious resources in trying to “hold back the challenges”.

Crucially, however, he warned publishers not to swap one dying revenue stream for a single alternative, saying, “if you miss the opportunities of the future, you will have no business. Publishers must diversify into multiple revenue streams, not simply changing one revenue stream for another.”

If you rely on only one source of revenue, then your business is at risk.

James Hewes, CEO and President, FIPP

For modern magazine media publishers to be successful, Hewes argued that four critical enablers needed to be present moving forwards, “A great company culture, a diverse and inclusive workplace, the right technology, and a commitment to operating sustainably that can be demonstrated to readers.”

Then, underlying the entirety of your business operations – including print – should be a data strategy, to ensure you are directly owning your customer data.

James Hewes, CEO and President, FIPP

The importance of a great workplace culture amidst recruitment headwinds

The theme of a strong workplace culture, as well as the importance of inclusivity and diversity, was a point Hewes stressed, saying to the senior publishers present that the new generations coming through – Gen Y and Gen Z – are very different from the Baby Boomers and Gen X generations that preceded them adding, “They’ve been raised in a very different world and think differently” before posing the question, ” Are you reflecting their needs?”.

Don’t be tempted to do what we used to do in the past – the “big bang” reorganisation. The organisation must evolve continually and, when hiring, a growth-focused mindset is more important than experience.

James Hewes, CEO and President, FIPP

Hewes then singled out Trusted Media brands – previously Reader’s Digest – as a publisher that had transformed its fortunes by placing people and culture front and center, arguing that “the rest couldn’t happen without that”.

Opportunities and Optimism

At the end of a wide-ranging presentation, Hewes ended on a positive note, reminding the audience of publishers that the opportunities in front of them are unparalleled in publishing history, saying, “There is no better or brighter time to work in this industry and we’ve never had more opportunity than we have now.”

If we seize these opportunities, we can build businesses that will continue to grow for another 100 years.

James Hewes, CEO and President, FIPP