Two of the most uplifting media stories of the past few weeks for anyone working in the biz were the latest subscription figures from the Financial Times and the New York Times.
After 12 years, the FT broke the 1m barrier; meanwhile, the NYT enjoyed its biggest quarterly leap since the 2016 presidential election – 265 000. It wasn’t just the bald numbers that raised the spirits, though. It was also what lay behind their success.
“Quality journalism is a growth business,’’ FT CEO John Ridding told The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade. ‘’At its heart is our belief in the enduring value of independent, authoritative and reliable reporting in an era of fake news.’’
NYT CEO Mark Thompson echoed the refrain when outlining his latest target of 10m subscribers by 2025. ‘’How will we go about meeting this new goal?’’, he reflected on a conference call. ‘’First, journalism.’’ And as the employer of 1,550 hacks, he’s certainly putting his shareholders’ money where his mouth is.
Incisive Media, the London-based b2b publisher I joined in March as group editorial director, doesn’t have quite as many journalists as the NYT. More like 40. Or quite as many subscribers. More in the thousands. But we do share with these behemoths an enduring faith in the value of hard-hitting, authenticated journalism.
As a recovering journalist, I can lament that it’s been a hell of a decade for a trade ranked in the latest Ipsos MORI Veracity Index on public trustworthiness somewhere below estate agents: yes, people who lie for a living.
It would be easy to give up on journalists, especially now that software has commoditised their principle service – news – and all but destroyed the advertising-funded print bundle that once bankrolled their existence. Now anyone can create and distribute content, our competitors are global, manifold, and include everyone from bedroom bloggers to our own clients.
And yet, in b2b, as in global news media, sustainable business models are crystallising in the form of subscriptions, membership, content marketing and events. None of them are new, of course; which is also true of the most reliable ways of building the loyal audience required to sustain those models: proprietary business data and – ta da! – journalism.
Ridding is right. In a world of fake news, business people need sources they can trust to help them stay in-the-know and give them fast access to ‘actionable intelligence’ that will help them make more money, cut costs, or manage risk. Sources like Incisive Media’s professional sites. Encouragingly, subscriptions, memberships and registrations are all growing, while the number of monthly returning users is typically up 40-50% year-on-year. If our content wasn’t valuable, users wouldn’t come back, or give us their data. And they certainly wouldn’t pay.
But it’s not just about business information. Even in a data age, we are all still human. And humans continue to communicate, as they always have done, through stories: from Aesop’s Fables to Love Island. It’s the compelling anecdote that illustrates a wider point. It’s the inspiring interview, bringing the career of a disruptive new industry force to life. It’s the powerful narrative that organises and makes sense of seemingly disparate facts.
Not everyone has those storytelling skills. Which is why talented journalists are important, and why Incisive Media is proud to employ them. It’s also why we’ve made a short video called ‘Stories that matter’ to talk about what we do and why we do it; the simple but hard craft of b2b journalism. See it here.
As my colleague Stuart Sumner, editorial director of Computing, says in the film: ’’I think the work [we do] is extremely valuable. You’re giving the audience something they really need, and if you’re doing it right, you’re giving them something they can’t get elsewhere.’’
Something valuable. Something people can’t get elsewhere. Sounds like a pretty good basis for a business model to me. Let’s call it journalism.
Blog post written by: Adrian Barrick, Group Editorial Director, Incisive Media