A silver lining of the ongoing disruption of publishing is that it’s forcing publishers to reappraise their strengths and weaknesses. Media companies no longer have the leeway to throw everything at the wall and to see what sticks. Instead, each and every one is looking at its historical strengths and attempting to double down on them, whether that be a renewed focus on expanding its sphere of influence, trading off expertise in a given area or pushing its accuracy and relevance.
For Future Publishing, British Media Award nominee in the Media Company of the Year category, that overall reappraisal has highlighted what its managing director Julian March describes as a ‘trilogy’ of strengths unique to the publisher.
The first is that Future’s portfolio of titles are clustered round genres that tend to attract devoted communities of readers. For a company that has significant exposure to the universal ongoing issues surrounding print advertising and circulation declines, that focus on fostering loyal readers is vital. March explains:
“One of the things that I found really attractive about Future when I joined in the middle of last year is this, really, that we are really operating in passion points, and passion points are populated by passionate fans and by definition communities. We are part of that community we serve. We actually see ourselves almost at peer-level within those communities. We have to play our part within them.
“We’re also very conscious that our audience have a level of expertise as well. For instance, the PC Gamer audience is so engaged in PC gaming that we’ve got be really careful that what we write stands up to scrutiny but also that we’re really welcoming and adoptive of the luminaries and great opinion-formers and build those into our communities.”
The mention of PC Gamer is notable: Since its redesign in 2014 the site has boasted high levels of engagement, driven in no small part by the efforts of its editorial team to directly correspond with its audience. The team will, for instance, solicit topics for its podcast on social media. Since its audience is made up of the valuable and extremely lucrative early tech adopters, retaining that level of trust and recognition through such endeavours is worth it.
Future’s focus on communities can also be seen by its recent purchase of some of TeamRock’s titles which have, as our editor Peter Houston has previously argued, pre-existing communities based around them which have enormous potential to foster communities.
Because of Future’s heritage as a print organisation and a focus on providing and updating its web offering, it has a balwark against the ongoing reintermediation of the web that has hit generic news publishers so hard. Understanding that context is as valuable as the content you produce is vital, as March explains:
“Frankly that couldn’t be more topical than now – I think we are as passionate about the content areas about which we operate… as the customers we serve, be they web audiences or advertising clients.
“Original content creators have been under continuous pressure over the past few years from the massive platforms, and I think it’s very true that there has been this massive tension between gigantic scale and original content creators. You just have to look at the news this week.. that’s where we have a real professional advantage.”
But a focus on community and retaining a premium context against which advertisers’ content can be served are reactionary measures. Future is using the advantages it retains by those measures to grow its ecommerce business, an industry which is only set to grow over the next few years (though not without some risks).
Future has an advantage in that area because (like fellow affiliate revenue success story Gizmodo) it has an understanding of and focus on the consumer journey from even before the customer lands on a Future site. March explains:
“One of our biggest USPs is that generally speaking around our digital properties in tech and tech lifestyle and gaming is that people come with purchasing intent. That is so valuable for us. We really understand that journey in great detail. On TechRadar that consumer journey starts with a purchasing intent in the mind of the consumer which initiates as a Google search.”
Small wonder then that Future saw a record 181,500 transactions driving £21 million of revenue over last year’s Black Friday period. That was largely driven by Future’s presence in certain high-value tech and lifestyle verticals, but would not have been possible without some expertise on the part of its teams. March said:
“We take the approach of a retailer in how we’ve developed our proprietary ecommerce software Hawk to serve the best deals around those products [so] ecommerce is a huge part of our world, on both sides of the Atlantic. In some areas we’re between 80 and 100 percent up year on year.
“We have high-value, attractive verticals populated by passionate fans with diversified revenue streams.”
And with the recent high-profile acquisitions of TeamRock’s titles and the Imagine portfolio, it’s clear to see that Future is redoubling its efforts in the areas which it knows will pay dividends in the near future. At a time of unprecedented challenge for legacy media businesses, Future’s reappraisal of its strengths provides a template which other media companies would do well to follow.
Future Publishing have made the shortlist in this year’s British Media Awards for Media Brand of the Year. The winners will be announced on 3rd May at the London Hilton – view the full shortlist.