55 Lessons from the 55th Distripress Congress in Hamburg, Germany: The Three Musketeers Needed to Save the Publishing Industry: Vision, Leadership and Courage

October 4, 2010

The future was front and center at the 55th Annual Distripress Congress in Hamburg, Germany. More than 1050 attendees gathered, engaged and interacted (try to do that Mr. iPad) with each other at the Distripress annual meeting of the association that bills itself as the “Platform for World Wide Press Distribution.” The wide range of topics focused on providing solutions for publishers and distributors of magazines and newspapers worldwide. Problems were identified and solutions were offered. There was no escape forward attitude and no blame game for the problems facing our industry. The lack of vision, leadership and courage were cited by Tyler Brulé of Monocle as a major source for the ills of the industry.

That was but once lesson from the 55 great lessons that I have learned from the Forum during the 55th Distripress Congress. Here are all the lessons:

1. The role of magazine and newspaper publishers is changing. It is about protecting the heart of journalism and about responsibility. It is the duty of any publisher all over the world to ensure the diversity of opinion and to control competing powers in a democracy.

2. To protect the heart of journalism and to meet our responsibilities we need to be aware of three fundamental aspects:
a. There will be no relevant information without journalistic quality.
b. There will be no journalistic quality without journalistic independence.
c. There will be no journalistic independence without economic independence – which means profitability.

3. The Internet has given us a lot of freedom and journalistic opportunities. But it is not acceptable that third parties use our expensively produced content for their business without any compensation. The economic loss to the publishers is not only massive – it is a threat to press diversity. Therefore it is important to improve the copyright protection and to establish copyright laws for publishers.

4. The greatest challenge of our time is to set up an economic base that allows publishers to run quality journalism as a profitable business.

5. Any strategy for the future of publishing must follow a three- legged model objective: Re-inventing the core, expanding the core and building a new core in the professional publishing segment.

6. Print can and is still a highly profitable and successful business – today and in the future.

7. Technical innovations like the iPad will make an important contribution to the world of media products, and they will help us to win younger audiences.

8. Any newly developed media channel is worthless, if we do not succeed in making a profit from it in the long term!

9. The digital revolution is forcing a complete reinvention of the publishing industry while targeting customer profiles that diverge more and more (in ten years core customer targets will all be internet-native…)

10. The publishing industry as a whole has to reinvent itself. Publishers and distributors have to make their own (R)evolutions.

11. There are three reasons for hope: A growing need for entertainment and media; Reading remains a pleasure and a noble hobby among the population; and reading newspapers and magazines represent an aspirational trend and a new lifestyle among the middle-class population in new countries.

12. Paper remains the easiest way to read newspapers and magazines.

13. A Publication on paper:
a. Is the cheapest device
b. Has the highest definition
c. Is suitable for long reading hours
d. Is mobile, easy to pocket and carry anywhere
e. Allows immediate access, no need to connect and reload
f. Is quick to browse, with immediate response time
g. Has an excellent touch and feel
h. With a special smell
k. Is 100% recyclable

14. Our challenge is to address the “ready-to-move-to-the-web” and increasingly mobile population in a more individualized & differentiated way per age, habits

15. We must venture into mixed offers paper / digital:
a. premium content on portable devices on top of existing paper press with differentiated contents.
b. 3D in printed press both newspapers and magazines (see the Sunday German Bild newspaper example below)

16. Publishers must have a solid commitment to the issue of copyright. They must learn from the mistakes of the music industry and adapt.

17. Inability of publishers to stand united and firm will lead to disastrous results.

18. Unlike music, magazines and newspapers, are not a background medium… they are front and center for the consumer.

19. Customers must come first.

20. Do what you do best and than link to the rest.

21. Endless customers choices is leading to unlimited demand.

22. Consider a business strategy like this one:
a. Determine your customer‘s needs.
b. Focus on the value added you provide best.
c. Make use of technology and platforms.
d. Collect and organize data.
e. Engage your customers – your community.
f. Act authentic.
g. Listen to digital natives and engage them.

23. In the midst of this digital age, we believe in print and we have the story of Grazia in Germany to put our money where our mouth is

24. Anti-cyclical acting will be rewarded and sometimes luck is with the bold and active ones.

25. Launching in economically difficult times can possibly create positive expectations and as a consequence strong support from your market and business.

26. Medium sized companies may not be at any kind of disadvantage in difficult times as
reaction time and therefore time to market is possibly faster.

27. Successful international concepts and licensed models can succeed, even
in saturated markets.

28. Stay with your strategy: Our strategy is: Print FIRST.

29.There is a children’s daily newspaper in France called “Le Petit Quotidien” and published in three different editions to reach different age groups from 6 to 14.

30. The daily paper feels and reads like a magazine with relevant focus to the relevant age group. The paper grows with its readers and has a total paid circulation of 150,000.

31. The web and the internet are not to be blamed for our troubles and problems in print.

32. The publishing industry needs to fight back with the tactile nature of its product.

33. Our problems can be summed by: a lack of vision, a lack of leadership and a lack of courage.

34. Every industry, every sector had to rethink the ways they are doing business in the last decade, except for the newsstands business.

35. It is time for a complete overhaul: selling me a candy bar with my newspaper is not the answer nor print on demand is the answer.

36. Look for Japan and South Korea: two places where they are creating rich, true diverse markets and experience… both in print and digital

37. Do not give away your publication. Monocle charges more for a subscription than buying it from the newsstands.

38. Make your subscribers feel like they are club members. Give them some evidence of that membership to showoff and identify with other members.

39. Subscribers will become patriots of the brand.

40. Deliver one story across the globe. Monocle aims to give the newsstands “love.”

41. Do in print what National Public Radio in the United States did to radio.

42. Print has become a more premium medium.

43. Monocle is creating newspapers, stores, products, events using intense branding and partnerships.

44. Soon the Monocle hotels may start appearing and the first one maybe in Beirut, Lebanon. See why in my two minutes interview with Tyler Brule, Monocle’s founder and editor in chief. (See video below)

45. Tyler Brulé and his magazine are a rare breed, but it is not too late to follow his lead.

46. Print will be with us for a long long time.

47. The magic of using four different kinds of paper in the same issue of your magazine works magic and create a wow factor that is missing from a lot of magazines on the market place.

48. When launching a new magazine, go to the source: the customers. Ask them what they want, when they wanted and how they wanted.

49. Think different: feeling good does not necessary means losing weight or looking beautiful.

50. Print is still the best platform for Time for ME. (See Flow magazine cover below)

51. We live in a digital age, but Print is still a very profitable business.

52. Newspapers and magazines are not dying, however some are committing suicide.

53. We can’t afford to be just content providers anymore, we have to become experience makers. In the midst of everything digital we need to focus on the humans.

54. Publishers must sell their products at a premium and must use from digital and technology what enhances their print product and not destroy it.

55. We are in the business of making money, any model invented, being invented or is soon to be invented, if it does not provide the publisher with sources of revenues it will not work.

The aforementioned lessons my friends, are just but a few pearls of wisdom that I’ve learned from the 55th Distripress Congress in Hamburg, Germany. There is much much more to be learned, but since that was the 55th Congress, I will stop at 55 lessons. I can’t wait to learn some more next year in Barcelona. I will have the chance to learn 56 lessons. Enjoy!

Giving credit where credit is due, lessons 1 to 8 came from Dr. Bernd Buchholz, Chairman of the Executive Board, Gruner + Jahr AG, Germany; lessons 9 to 15 from Dag Inge Rasmussen, President and COO, Lagardére Services, France; lessons 16 to 18 from Bhaskar Menon, Director, NDTV, India and Chairman & CEO of International Media Investments, USA; lessons 19 to 22 from Ewald Wessling, Media Consultant, Germany; lessons 23 to 28 from Lars Joachim Rose, President and CEO of Klambt Verlag, Germany; lessons 29 to 30 from Francois Dufour, Editor in Chief at Play Bac Presse, France; lessons 31 to 46 from Tyler Brulé , Chairman and Editor in Chief of Monocle, United Kingdom; lessons 47 to 50 from Anita Mooiweer, Head of Business Development, Sanoma Uitgevers, The Netherlands; and lessons 51 to 55 from yours truly. Thanks to all.


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  2. This is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing.

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