Could imaginative thinking have kept the New Media Age brand alive?
Andy Oakes @ - on 1/10/12
It came as a surprise to nobody when Centaur announced on Friday that the New Media Age would effectively close. Seventeen years of being at the centre of the digital economy were bought to a close by the announcement that the title would be "incorporated into" Econsultancy.com, which Centaur bought in June this year for a reported £50 million.
I should start with an early disclaimer. I was the publisher of NMA between 2005 and 2011 and left the company when the first rounds of restructuring were announced in June 2011. Along with many others at NMA and Design Week, I was made redundant when the printed editions closed. I now work as associate director of TheMediaBriefing along with other consultancy work.
So far, so predictable. We rode the digital wave for a long time but the paradoxical situation of a print title covering the digital world caught up with us. Despite being profitable, still running some very high-value awards and events such as the NMA Live series, it was decided that the title's future was online-only.
Industry Standard, Business 2.0 and more recently Revolution at Haymarket had also tried the online-only route before eventually shutting or merging into other brands. It’s a depressingly familiar tale. NMA had done well to survive so long - but we were lean in terms of staff, aggressive in building our events portfolio (NMA Live was Centaur's highest grossing delegate paid event series in 2010) and were pursuing a strategy of launching low-cost brand extensions in Reputation Online and Digital Professional.
The online-only move, as it was described to me at the time, made business sense. I might not have liked it, but professionally I could see how with the healthy online traffic, an enviable email newsletter portfolio and a series of well-liked events, things could progress.
As long as they continued to encourage the excellent journalism that NMA became known for and marketed the proposition intelligently then there was a very viable business with growth potential and remain a player in the digital business arena.
Paid content challenges
We had tried, though admittedly without a huge amount of success, to implement a paid content strategy for some time. Our first attempts were muddled in their thinking and it quickly became apparent that we needed to reshape our editorial model away from being news-led to data-driven, with high quality analysis.
I’m willing to admit that I should have been more radical at the time and tried harder to convince the board that we needed investment in the right kind of staff and sometime to rebuild the proposition. Unfortunately Centaur were unwilling to let us have either.
Since my departure in June 2011, key staff editorial staff were allowed to leave and were not replaced, including editor Justin Pearse. The entire commercial team were made also redundant and the marketing team also left. From a team of 24, only three remain at the time of writing.
This article is not intended to be a lament of yet another lost media brand. What these events show us is that many of our media owners seem to lack the creative thinking to reshape models when things turn tough.
Yes, let’s look at publishing frequency, yes let’s implement paid content strategies but also let’s look at how we can move to lower cost models and build innovative revenue generation schemes. The better publishers out there look at how to change business models rather than just buy somebody else’s.
Econsultancy is a terrific media brand and Ashley Friedlein should be congratulated on the business he has built and especially on the deal he got to sell it. I can see why Centaur found it so attractive and why they thought it would be a good fit. But wouldn’t it have been the brave thing to do to invest some of that money in reshaping and growing the brand that you had patiently built over seventeen years?
Andy Oakes is associate director of TheMediaBriefing and former publisher of New Media Age.