Publishing Insights: Bo Sacks at Act8

Bo Sacks’ keynote at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media’s ACT 8 conference provided a number of key insights into how publishers need to adapt.

Liam Handford

Liam Handford

June 29th, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 mins
publishing act 8

Every year the Magazine Innovation Centre at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media has brought some of the publishing industry’s biggest names for a 3 day conference, to share experiences, knowledge, and theorise on the future of print and digital publishing.

This year was particularly special, with Bo Sacks- President of Precision Media Group, delivering a keynote that struck a chord with many in the industry. Bo Sacks is someone that anyone in the publishing industry will sit up and listen to, with decades of experience creating and running publications, and never being afraid to speak out on issues in his magazine (which is about to hit 26 years running). He’s also a US Publishing Hall of Famer.

Keynote: The Future of The Magazine Industry in the 21st Century

The keynote was a refreshing take on publishing from an industry legend. Sacks made it clear that ‘print isn’t dead but it’s changing, and we need to change with it’. A big theme was that while print has obviously seen massive declines in advertising revenue, and is sharing more and more of an audience with digital publishing channels, it will always have a place but requires innovation.

Until recently print business was uniform, their business plans were identical. Now the angles, channels and potential revenue streams are dynamic and changing, which provides opportunity for publishers that aren’t afraid to adapt.

Those who adapt to the business conditions at hand have a great chance of survival, and while those who cannot adapt, they retire to the jungle

Darwin, The Publishing Handbook

A question was posed to print publishers during the keynote: “Is your publication a commodity or a luxury?”, as Sacks talked about how he sees print publications becoming a luxury item, not dissimilar to the battle between books and e-readers. Book sales have actually surged in recent years, despite the lower cost of digital versions.

A staple of this argument is the haptic experience of print, as it’s been proven that print stimulates a stronger emotional response and has a better memory comprehension compared to digital.

The Publisher Content Tsunami

content tsunamiSpecialisation of content provides the best chance of survival, something we talked about in our other post, Digital Publishing: 2017 Year in Review, highlighting the importance of targeting a niche audience providing something that no other publisher can, as high quality digital content is now so readily available and accessible.

Sacks briefly touches on this, saying that accurate, considered and deliberate media will always have value, especially when contrasted against the current publishing culture of being the first to break a story and maximise exposure, rather than professionally investigate, dissect and add context.

By 2021, nearly 90% of all internet traffic will be from smartphones

Digital Publishing & Data

The biggest weapon in the Digital Publisher arsenal is data, as technological advances have allowed even better understanding of audiences, driven largely by the huge amount of revenue in advertising. The use of data has evolved beyond macro and vanity metrics – it’s now possible for digital publishers to easily exploit trends and niches, but to really stand out publishers need to focus on micro trends, finding ways to make their customers smarter and their lives easier rather than focusing too much on maximising eyeballs.

Essentially traditional publishers have been left behind, overtaken by agencies and branded content factories that specialise in making the most of the data they collect and building dynamic strategies to make their content mean something.

In Conclusion, It Isn’t A Race

Bo Sacks is one of the very few people in publishing who’s words should be seriously heeded. The overarching lesson from his keynote was essentially that there isn’t a race between print and digital, society is changing and publishing has to change with it, but there’ll always be a place for both mediums.

In many cases the advantages of print are the disadvantages of digital and vice versa. To be successful and lasting in the new information age publishers have to be willing to forget what they thought they knew, to re-focus on their individual missions, and create new strategies with the tools now available to them.

You can watch the full keynote here:

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