BOTW: Publishing communities, backwards ad revenue and media's lost trust
Welcome to Best of the Week, mostly written on Friday afternoon on a train heading up the NSW north coast, and finished on Saturday morning on a train heading back down again.
Happy Franchise Appreciation Day. Except for Harvey Norman. More on that shortly.
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Finally, a publishing community emerges
If I didn’t know better, I’d think Sydney consists only of converted wharfside warehouses. I’ve been seeing a lot of oak beam action this week.
I was in town for the Publish Awards on Thursday night, held at Doltone House at Jones Bay Wharf. Then my hotel was a trendy warehouse conversion in The Rocks. And yesterday afternoon, it was on to the Ovolo Hotel in Wooloomooloo for the Digital Publishers Alliance’s first upfronts event, Independents Day.
These days, the Publish conference and the Publish Awards are organised by my previous publishing house, Mumbrella.
We took the events on after industry body Publishers Australia went out of business. The awards go back 25 years, first as The Bell Awards, then as PA’s Excellence Awards.
It used to baffle me that the small end of town - digital publishers, trade publishers and the independent consumer publishers - had one industry body in Publishers Australia, while the three big glossy publishers at the time - Bauer Media, NewsLifeMedia and Pacific Magazines - had their own, gradually declining, body in Magazine Publishers Australia. Nowadays only Are Media, the rebranded Bauer, remains as a serious player at the big end of town of magazine publishing.
Imagine if PA and the MPA came together for one big night, I used to argue.
At least newspapers, big and local, used to have the PANPA Awards, organised by Newspaper Works, to celebrate their publishing efforts. But those awards died with Newspaper Works, which now sits within the Premium Content Alliance as ThinkNewsBrands, representing the mastheads of News Corp, Nine and Seven West Media.
So Publish was the best we could do, trying to remain true to the smaller end of town, while opening it up to the big players. That’s represented in the list of this year’s Publish Awards winners.
The News Corp aligned custom publisher (to use an old fashioned phrase) Medium Rare was the biggest winner on the night. Nine and Are Media also had wins.
But independent players got a look in too. The three of us from Unmade (as you may have seen yesterday, we won launch of the year and I picked up columnist of the year) shared a table with the team behind InStyle, now independently published by True North Media. They won cover of the year.
CarExpert won brand of the year, and lifestyle brand Man of Many picked up gongs too.
It was a great night of familiar faces, and far more fun to be a nervous nominee in the audience than a stressed out organiser.
But the real a sense of a community coming together came 19 hours later, at the Digital Publishers Alliance event, Independents Day. It’s more fashionable to call yourself an alliance rather than an association, these days, incidentally.
It’s the idea I wish we’d thought of when we were involved with Publishers Australia - a chance for the independent publishers to participate in their own upfronts ahead of the big TV networks. An audience of, I’d guess, more than 200 media agency staff sat through a series of short and sharp ten minute presos from each publisher.
The event was fronted by Tim Duggan, chair of the DPA and back in the day cofounder of Junkee Media. The approach was reminiscent to how Junkee used to talk to the market in its own events - offering consumer insights instead of sales pitches.
Being in the room felt like being in on the groundfloor of something that’s going to become an industry fixture.
It also made me change my mind somewhat about the DPA. As I’ve written before, the DPA took most of its launch funding from Alphabet and Meta, parent companies of Google and Facebook. That seemed the wrong call to me, compromising an avenue for the small players to get a slice of the News Media Bargaining Code action.
But Independents Day was a tangible initiative, which gives DPA a point. It felt like a community coming together. I bet it will be much bigger next year.
Now the bad (?) news
There were a couple of interesting pieces of new data this week.
The first came from Standard Media Index. The advertising industry saw its first month of year-on-year decline since the post-lockdown bounceback. Overall, media agency adspend was down by 4.2%.
In the main this was because the TV sector generally and Seven in particular had boomed in July 2021 when The Olympics finally went to air, a year late. Compared to that, this July’s TV advertising revenue was down by a crunchy 12.9%.
It’s worth noting that SMI argues that if media that enjoyed the Olympic boost last year is excluded from the calculation, the market would still have seen underlying growth of 2.8%. While that’s an admirable attempt to look for the positive, that relies on the assumption that none of that Olympic money would have been spent elsewhere a year ago.
Several other sectors were down too though, which is less easily explained by the Olympics factor. Newspapers were down 24.6% and radio by 4.9%.
Magazines were up for once, by 5.4%, suggesting that shrunken sector may finally have found a bottom.
While most industry forecasts are still predicting growth in ad spend over the financial year despite the economic headwinds, the first month suggests otherwise.
The trust factor
Roy Morgan Research also offered an interesting data release this week, streaming a video announcement of its quarterly data on trust (and distrust) in brands.
One of the helpful things about data, is that it sometimes disproves your assumptions.
That was the case on Thursday. The main reason I was keen to watch was that I wanted to see the impact of Qantas’s recent operational nightmares on trust in the brand.
In fact, there was no move in the relative ranking of Qantas. It’s still sixth.
However, RMR’s boss Michele Levine, who presented the video stream, did reveal that although it was not enough of a fall to cost Qantas a place in its ranking, the brand did experience the biggest drop in its net trust score.
There was plenty of other interesting data too.
The hate factor for retailer Harvey Norman is growing. The decision to hang on to most of its $22m in Job Keeper money despite record profits comes at the cost of a radical loss of goodwill. Harvey Norman is now the sixth most distrusted brand. Previously it was 17th. As Levine put it, “an extraordinary decline”.
Levine also made the point that the media sector as a whole has a major trust problem.
The five least trusted brands - Facebook, Telstra, Amazon, News Corp and Google - all operate within or adjacent to the media space.
However, there are trusted media brands, with the ABC topping the list. Meanwhile, News Corp is the most distrusted.
But that positive number for the ABC hides a problem. Its net trust score has declined by 62% in the last three years. As Levine put it: “Whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t seem to be working.”
Unmade Index: Welcome to The Market Herald
It was a flat Friday for The Unmade Index with the sector nudging upwards by 0.16%. This was fractionally better than the wider ASX All Ords which was down by about 0.3%.
We today add another stock to the Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies. From now on we’ll be tracking The Market Herald, owner of Hot Copper, which is issuing new shares in order to buy Gumtree, Carsguide and Autotrader later this month. The stock’s first day on the index was flat, unsuprising as the new shares don’t start trading until September 21.
Agency holding company Enero had a good day yesterday, with shares up by 5.4%, while Seven West Media had a bad day, with stocks declining 7%.
Time to let you get on with the weekend.
The delights of a Saturday night under the bright lights of Launceston await.
We’ll be back on Monday with Start the Week.