Former managing director of Nine Entertainment’s publishing business Chris Janz says publishers are being distracted by emerging businesses and cautions peers against “waves of false hope”.
He left Nine in 2021 after roles with its predecessor, Fairfax Media including heading its “blue team”, charged by then-chief executive Greg Hywood with identifying leadership for a ‘Fairfax of the future’.
With Chris Eisman, he recently represented the New Zealand News Publishers’ Association in their negotiations with Google and Meta on commercial deals for use of content, with annual fees of about NZ$40 million (A$36.3 million) said to be at stake.
Now an adviser to global media organisations – including WAN-Ifra’s World Press Trends project – he tells the association’s Dean Roper this week that some emerging businesses “at best won’t offset a lack of focus on the core business and at worst will distract their leadership teams from a burning platform”.
One focus is print, now entering “its most challenging period” with newsprint at record highs, other input costs “through the roof” and longer-term circulation trends continuing to affect volumes.
“It is becoming harder to sustain printed publications as most publishers have already implemented every obvious efficiency,” he says.
“That’s a problem because, in most countries, digital revenues alone do not support the cost of producing quality journalism at scale.”
Australia is in a “different position” thanks to legislation that saw Google and Meta reach commercial agreements with almost every publisher, reported to be worth A$200-250 million a year, enabling newsrooms to “continue to thrive” in a post-print world, when combined with advertising and subscription income.
He says that with few regional exceptions, publishers need to be able to sustain their business as a digital-only operation. “Print should be commercially viewed as an add-on that continues if it is incrementally profitable,” he says.
Janz says no-one should act to accelerate print’s decline “while the platform is still profitably loved by readers and advertisers”, but should make sure they can survive and thrive if external factors make print unviable.
Questioned about new business opportunities – seen as the biggest growth area by World Press Trends respondents – he cautions publishers entering businesses outside their core expertise in the current environment. “Now is the time to focus on core revenue lines – print retail and subscriptions, print advertising, digital subscriptions and licensing, and digital advertising – ensuring each has the strategy and focus they deserve,” he says.
But Janz says it is also “an ideal time” to ensure operating models are fit for 2023, and not being held back by inefficient legacy structures or areas seen to be above criticism.
“I fear some publishers are being distracted by emerging businesses that at best won’t offset a lack of focus on the core business and at worst will distract their leadership teams from a burning platform.”
Over the past couple of decades, he says the industry has invested heavily in “what I see as waves of false hope, from iPad editions to native content to events and search engine marketing.
“With few exceptions, these new businesses haven’t changed publishers’ trajectories but in most cases they distract management teams from focusing on the core.”
However, he says “traditionally unimaginable partnerships” should be explored and, where a function doesn’t deliver competitive advantage and regulation allows, traditional and non-traditional competitors should work together in the best interests of their businesses, readers and journalism.
Pictured: Chris Janz (photo Sydney Morning Herald).