Navigating the new world of business news
Investor's Business Daily recently reduced its print edition frequency
July 14, 2016
This article is part of a Media Life series “Reinventing the American Newspaper.” Click here to read other stories in the series.
It was not really a surprise when Investor’s Business Daily announced earlier this year that it was cutting its print edition from daily to weekly. Investment news and stock prices had long since migrated online, and most financial and business publications have moved significant resources to digital, if not entirely giving up their print editions. To stay competitive and remain attractive to advertisers, argues IBD president Jerry Ferrara, publications will also need to tighten the focus of their coverage. The chief reason: There are far more competitors now than there were a decade ago, and they’re targeting many of the same readers. Ferrara talks to Media Life about how IBD came to its decision to trim back its print edition, how the business has changed with a reduced print frequency, and what the future holds for business and financial news.
What’s the future for business news? How has your view on that changed over the past few years?
I’m mostly bullish about business and financial news brands as long as they have a distinct and differentiated voice.
Some of the general business news sites won’t make it through the next recession. The more niche the business and financial vertical, the greater chance for longer-term success. Strictly ad-supported business ventures have a tough road ahead, unless of course the strategy is to drastically grow usership regardless of profitability and flip the company. But for every one or two companies that hit on that strategy, there are countless companies that don’t.
If a publisher doesn’t have a strong subscription business or the prospects of a strong subscription business, I’d be concerned. The ad-blocking issues across digital, lack of transparency in sponsored content and pure domination of Google and Facebook don’t bode well for many publishers.
Why does cutting back the print edition make sense for a publication like IBD?
Cutting back the print edition while evolving the overall content strategy is what our subscribers have been asking for.
We are in the business of helping investors make more money in the stock market, and focusing more on digital/mobile product development while experimenting with various platform distribution models are key levers for our future growth. Most of our revenues have already come from digital, and we’ve prepared for this transformation for several years.
While IBD has been profitable, unlike many financial and business publishers, making a transition like this helps us increase profit margins as well.
Others are going to follow that lead, it’s clearly the direction the industry is headed in. But how do you know when the right time to make that decision is? Was there any worry it would be premature?
We’ve been modeling this out for years, and it was the right time for us. We know other print publishers are discussing this and building out their own strategy. I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer for the industry or our competitors–it all depends on each publisher’s revenue streams beyond print and how much capacity of change they are willing to undertake.
Not only does a transformation of this type need new revenue streams, new workflows and new internal resources, but most importantly it takes a culture change, which is the trickiest. Those that make this transformation as smoothly as possible will be those that truly understand their culture and how it needs to change or evolve.
We’ve had a pretty seamless transition period, and it’s a testament to our understanding of the industry dynamics, knowing our own blind spots and making decisions that feel uncomfortable but are necessary. We’ve also had a strong and profitable digital subscription model for some time, which has helped make our audience truly valuable in that we are able to command some of the most premium ad rates in the industry.
We also have revenue coming in from events and business development arrangements, which is something other publishers are clamoring for now. Unlike other publishers who have focused time and energy on getting PR buzz in the industry trades, our focus over the years has consistently been on our subscribers and advertisers, and it’s helping us now while the industry is on shaky ground.
How will your editorial focus change going to a weekly edition?
The weekly print focus is all about looking forward and preparing investors for the big picture events in the coming week, while complementing 24/7 digital and mobile coverage on Investors.com and via our premium subscription services like Leaderboard, SwingTrader and MarketSmith.
We’re adapting and evolving just as our customers and prospective customers are adapting.
What’s your pitch to advertisers when you change your editorial output like this? How do you explain it to them and what do you do to make the case for buying the online product?
The pitch hasn’t changed. It’s still all about the audience we deliver and the solutions we provide. Advertisers are looking for engagement and true connections built between publishers, brands and consumers, and we are more equipped to provide that than ever before.
What sort of reaction did you hear from advertisers about the switch?
All reactions have been positive. A few even wondered why we hadn’t done it earlier, given the state of the daily print model.
What do you see in business journalism right now that excites you?
Deep-dive long form quality content, which is accessible to all users via multiple platforms, is exciting, as is the continued importance of data analytics in financial and business content. I’m not sure how VR fits in during the near term, but there could be some interesting ways to tell stories in more engaging ways down the road. The days of page views for the sake of page views in this industry are behind us, or at least should be.
How has business journalism changed in the past 15 years?
The biggest differences in my eyes are the competitive set, distribution models and use of data to make decisions. While there were 25 or so competitors 15-20 years ago, now there are thousands.
And years ago a lot of decisions were made on hunches whereas today it’s much more data driven, although you need to make sure you’re looking at the right data.
What remains the same about the business, even in the digital age?
I think quality of content ultimately wins out regardless of medium, but many publishers haven’t been able to figure out how to create and monetize that content in a way that’s consistently profitable.
One of our competitive advantages is that we have figured out what works for us now, but it’s a rapidly changing model, and we cannot get complacent, otherwise we too could be in jeopardy. In order to succeed moving forward, we and the industry need to continually adapt and optimize along the way.
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