SIPA's New State of the Industry Report Offers Revealing Snapshot

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Subscriptions still rule, social media remains a bit tame, data and events are moving up, and advertising/sponsorships may be a little higher than we thought. Those are some quick reactions to the unveiling of SIPA’s shiny new 2016 State of the Industry Report—available now to members on the SIPA website.

A closer look, however, does reveal key insights that can help publishers move forward in these complicated but thrilling times. The report—based on 54 responses from publishers—provides a snapshot of the specialized information provider and publishing industry and provides benchmarks for owners and publishers.

Here are eight takeaways that grabbed me at first reading:

1. An increased revenue mix should get even more mixed. Publishers responding to the survey get 68.5% of their revenue from newsletters and subscriptions followed by 59.3% from advertising and sponsorships. That’s still solid. Webinars and audio conferences account for 38.9%, conferences and tradeshows 33.3% and data also 33.3%. The two surprises here are the relatively high percentage of advertising/sponsorship dollars—sponsored webinars, reports and content appear to be growing areas—and that data is already at a third of all revenue. That potential seems much higher.

Discover proven techniques publishers and content providers can use to boost leads, customers and revenue at SIPA's New Marketing and Sales Strategies for Customer Acquisition SummitOct. 14 in San Francisco. 

2. Success can come in many ways today; try different things... The report lists 35 answers to the question, “What is the biggest success your company has had in the previous 12 months?” Answers include: Launching high priced ($30k and up) data products; trade show growth—booths and paid registrants; expanding our network of licensing opportunities; developed two new video products; and launched a new conference.

3. ..Especially if you’ve been around for a while.
By far, respondents indicated that acquiring new customers is their biggest challenge. One reason for this is that almost 2/3 of the respondents have been in business for more than 20 years. It’s hard to adjust what you do after many years of success. But the aforementioned recent successes indicate that solutions are out there.

4. More social media channels should be explored. Yesterday, I quoted Dan Hanover, vice president, event marketing group, for Access Intelligence as saying: “My biggest lesson is you [have to] do it all. We're doing Facebook ads, we're doing YouTube. We sprinkle it all over the place because you never know what's going to work.” But while Twitter and LinkedIn are being used by SIPA publishers, Pinterest, Instagram, Meetup and Snapchat are not. I’ve seen success stories for each of those. Facebook is being used by just over half the respondents, maybe still a little low considering its breadth.

Top six channels are shown here. Download the report to see the full chart. 

5. The move towards events, webinars and data has not lessened dependency on good content. Editorial is the largest anticipated growth area of publishers adding employees over the next 12 months. Sales and marketing place next followed by administrative. Nice to know that content is still looked at as king.

6. Examine how you want to grow. IT, consultants and events are the least anticipated areas of employee growth. This could be a problem. At the SIPA Conference, we heard Brian Crotty, president and CEO of OPIS, an IHS company, say that their growth had been slowed by divisions having to wait for the IT staff to respond to them. “So we invested in IT in a big way,” he said. Now they have 100 IT people. “We get projects out faster, people are more motivated, and our growth rate went from 8% to 12%.”

7. Look at other studies for new trends. The lack of events staff being added, which was easily the lowest number, is also a bit surprising. With a third of revenues now coming from events, service will have to be good for people to spread the word and come back. In addition, according to a study I reported on this week, 73% of members want to know about professional meetings in the field and 70% want to know about upcoming networking events. I doubt subscribers are any different. My hypothesis is that marketing staff are also responsible for events at many SIPA member companies, said Nancy Brand, SIPA managing director. Also, a lot of the event planning and execution might be outsourced.

8. Finding the right talent mix has become harder. It may be clear where growth can occur—events, data, elearning, sponsorships—but for a small publisher, finding the right people to shepherd that growth can be difficult. “[What we do today] is much more labor intensive, and managing the many business models, skills needed, and time required with a small staff is challenging,” said one respondent. Other problems include: keeping editorial costs down; the high cost of systems upkeep; recruiting talent; and acquiring new customers.

Log into the SIPA site to download the report.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…