23.3 Navigating the Storm: The Future for Architectural Media

Jonathan Stock, Publishing Director for Architecture Today spoke to the conference from the insider perspective of a publisher, essentially on the changing landscape of media publishing, all driven by technology and the subsequent shifting patterns of consumption.

Jonathan StockJonathan described media publishing as a legacy business, noting as well that the large media businesses were all under threat from the ‘individual as publisher’, as access to the technology for publishing, and to audiences were now more distributed. This had created an environment where content was available freely, anywhere, from anyone and which had subsequently led to a large drop in circulation and advertising revenue across the board.

In addition to this, patterns of media consumption were shifting across a range of devices. Particularly interesting was the ‘mass migration of time and attention’, or how the device and therefore the subsequent media or editorial format, was changing depending on the time of day and where the consumer might be at that time – commuting, at work or home etc. This has resulted in huge declines in print subscriptions, though amongst architects research had shown that 98% still wanted print versions, largely due to its nature as a visual subject. To this end, we heard that there was now also a lot of experimentation in the publishing business, particularly in the area of subscription models, an issue close to the heart of the audience.

This presents a conundrum for publishers, which is only just starting to be worked out; that it requires moving from a mono-media environment and strategy, to a multi-media, multi-platform one. This results in a portfolio of different types of content for different types of consumption – the commute to work, reading or listening to a podcast on the mobile device; at the desk using a PC to access richer content; longer critical editorial and in-depth articles in print.

So what does this mean for the future direction of media publishing, and particularly of the business-to-business variety such as architectural publishing? Jonathan explained that the value of publishing brands such as Architecture Today, Architectural Review, Architects’ Journal lie in their history and trustiness as specialist publishers. Through this value Jonathan saw an opportunity for publishers to build communities and engagement in a way never before possible. To some extent this exposes previous editorial approaches that centred around an individual editor and their knowledge of an audience, to now being driven by that audience themselves through direct feedback.

This can offer opportunities both through personalisations, enabled by the analytics it is now possible to collect about audiences, and the move into a relationship business model that drives diversification in support of a community, through events, forums and reader panels. Jonathan emphasised the need for media publishers to open further revenue streams on the back of this diversification and engagement, through partnerships with companies important or relevant to their audience enabling an understanding of their customers and the market, to communicate and track product information and to reach architects for example, to find out about current projects.

Jonathan ended, concluding that he saw the future as belonging to single subject specialist publishers rather than huge multi-disciplinary monoliths. These, he explained were able to draw on trust, be agnostic about platform, agile and experimental and as a result were able to build communities and engage audiences in a meaningful way. He saw the publisher of the future as a membership and data organisation, not the one-way broadcaster of the past.

In the questions, when asked about the issues around subscription models, Jonathan acknowledged the potential of mutual benefit for both publishers and libraries, given we are developing the audience and community of the future.

Whilst libraries are themselves grappling with the pace of technological change and what this means for the way we can curate, access and deliver resources to our users, it was enlightening to hear about these issues from the publisher perspective. Jonathan’s talk in some respects implicitly emphasised the need for educating our users in the process of seeking and using information, given the access to publishing platforms by anyone, be they an established and perhaps trusted source, or not. It also helped to explain why subscription models are so varied, difficult and perhaps unsuitable in many cases for the needs of libraries within higher education institutions. As one colleague remarked “it was the first time I’ve felt sorry for a publisher …”.

Review by Andrew Calvert, Arts University Bournemouth

Photograph by Tom Rogers

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