Publishers of newspapers and magazines are setting aside competitive differences to collaborate as they grapple with larger digital platforms and plummeting traditional advertising revenues, an industry survey has found.
The Association of Online Publishers' annual census of UK members also found that mobile development, ecommerce and commercial data analysis are key priorities for the coming year.
"Publishers are coming together to understand how they can work collaboratively," said Lee Baker, director of the AOP. "We are seeing more of that on a much more sophisticated level ... Lots of businesses are simultaneously moving into very, very new territory, which is driving this approach."
The AOP's membership is largely comprised of the digital arms of traditional media companies including newspaper groups News International, Trinity Mirror, Associated & Northcliffe, and Independent News & Media; magazine publishers IPC, Bauer, Reed Business Information, CondÃ© Nast and Haymarket; and TV broadcasters ITV, the BBC, Channel 4 and British Sky Broadcasting.
Such businesses face growing competition from new areas such as retailers Tesco and ASOS, which are publishing increasing quantities of editorial online to help draw traffic, and from new digital advertising exchanges operated by the likes of WPP and Google, as online targeting allows specific audiences to be shown relevant advertising regardless of the content it appears next to.
"There is a sentiment that publishers are lagging a bit in the technology arms race with the media agencies," said Mr Baker. "Where it used to be that you would see some very competitive businesses sitting uncomfortably next to one another, now they are working together to make sure that they respond to this kind of trading [such as real time bidding or advertising exchanges] so that they aren't bullied into a type of trading that isn't necessarily appropriate for our kind of businesses."
Publishers are also coming to rely on new forms of digital distribution through platform owners such as Apple and Facebook, whose size and scale makes them tough to negotiate with individually.
Against this backdrop, 72 per cent of media companies surveyed by the AOP are either collaborating and building partnerships with similar publishers, or plan to do so. That could include content syndication, trading audience data and licensing technology, such as Future Publishing's Folio platform for tablet-based magazines.
Apps for smartphones and tablets such as the iPad remain a high priority for the AOP's members, as they provide a way to charge for content despite a diminishing appetite among consumer publishers to erect web paywalls like those used by News International with the Times.
The number of publishers planning to recruit staff for apps has grown from 41 per cent last year to 52 per cent today, with 48 per cent looking to recruit talent for other forms of mobile development, up from 31 per cent a year ago. Such expertise is increasingly being brought in-house, rather than hired from external agencies.
Video production skills are also in high demand among 36 per cent of those surveyed by the AOP, compared with 23 per cent a year ago.
The largest increases in commercial staffing priorities were in advertising operations and data analysis.
"Most of our member businesses have traditionally been built around editorial and developing premium content and have not necessarily been particularly robust in managing their advertising inventory," said Mr Baker. "They are now having to learn the skills to manage advertising in that way."
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