Digital disruption stalks the media industry. New technologies threaten to make old ones obsolete every week. So publishers covering the technology industry are closer to the eye of the storm than most.
But tech publisher IDG has turned this to its advantage. The firm's global CEO Bob Carrigan tells me in a wide-ranging interview that IDG is developing an aggressive approach, taking a realistic approach to the decline of print and fending off competiton from nimble new market entrants.
Hold your ground
Carrigan extols the quality and insight his company's content brings to the market - but he's realistic about the need to be aggressive to compete with a wave smaller startups:
"We have to do is make sure we don't concede high opportunity areas of the market to intermediaries and VC-backed startups. Not in a protectionist way, but this is our category, this is how we do business."
He points to the company's internal advertising data trading desk - the Technology Audience Platform - as an example of the approach (we covered that in more depth here).
"We're competing against all the (advertising) exchanges head on - if you are a tech advertiser we want you to know we are bringing our domain expertise to market and we are providing our solution to this vertical market. How many publishers are aggressive about that?"
However, Carrigan says that doesn't mean media companies have to take an antagonistic approach to ad tech firms. Instead, IDG has built its own systems by licensing technology from them.
"That's basically the way we approach that in other areas, social lead generation - we don't build a social network, but we leverage all the social networks and their APIs that we make our own, productise and sell.
"I think it's an excuse when you blame all these adtech companies and the Lumascape chart.
"You have every chance to go in and dominate your category - you just have to go in and act aggressively and embrace what's going on and bring it to market with the advertisers, because you want the billing relationship with the marketer not concede that to a third-party."
A big part of that, says Carrigan, is keeping control of your own data: "It's not a strategy to take your data and give it to a third-party network and get your revenue share - what you are doing there is empowering these other companies to go out and compete against you."
Print for profit, digital for growth
Carrigan says IDG is able to be aggressive in pursuing many of these opportunities because it takes a realistic approach to its print businesses and their decline.
"In the US the peak of the tech media print ad market was in 1999, so it's a very old story for our category," he says. "We have a philosophy at IDG, that hopefully all our business heads could recite to you, we manage print for profit and digital for growth.
"We are constantly trying to map our direct costs to where we think the revenue is going to be and we are pretty religious about that.
"Over the last few years we have done a relatively good job of maintaining or increasing profitability in print by realistically forecasting where the lines are going, taking a conservative view all the time."
If someone told Carrigan his print revenue would go down eight percent, "we'll take it down ten, matching our costs against that", he says, in contrast to the many publishers who still talk up the prospects of their print titles.
"The curse of many media companies today is that they hold on a little too long to print.
"You absolutely have to be relatively ruthless about print titles that are no longer profitable, you have to be disciplined because if you look at the trend lines it is basically your customers speaking to you, readers or advertisers."
Who says elephants can't dance?
Carrrigan says that one of IDG's biggest growth areas - perhaps its biggest - is marketing services. IDG has a unit based in Staines called IGS specialising in offering marketing services to customers globally, which employs over 100 people.
"IDG's service stack includes custom content, lead generation, research, social media. We keep introducing new service in that so-called service stack," says Carrigan.
"They are in some cases agency-like services, marketers want to core down with fewer companies that offer a wide range of services."
"More often than not we are working directly with agencies - it's a popular debate publishers vs agencies - we don't view it like that but we have to be able to offer these services."
However, he says this isn't a case of replacing traditional media operations with completely new - agency mimicking activities.
"I use the example of IBM - there's a book called Who says Elephants can't dance about how IBM transformed from a mainframe server company into a services company."
"We started with Computer World, but we now operate a variety of services which go beyond the equivalent of our mainframe - which is standard media."
"But here's the funny thing, IBM sells a lot more mainframes because of their services business - and we sell a lot more standard media as part of integrated marketing programmes and I think that's where the model is flipping."
Some key IDG stats:
-- 2011 revenues of $3.24 dollars (£2.17 billion), employs more than 13,000 people worldwide.
--IDG operates 200+ print magazines and 450+ websites reaching around with 300 million readers.
-- It is a global company operating in 90 countries with around 10 bureaux. Some services are shared, and IDG also operates an internal global newswire available only to IDG properties. However, most content is locally developed by wholly owned subsidiaries or a smaller number of licence partners.
-- Its titles cover the tech industry across B2B titles like CIO, "prosumer" titles including Macworld, and a number of titles in computer gaming, where it also runs leading industry trade show E3.