Industry News

2022 in Focus: Immense opportunities, complex challenges, and the public demand for specialist media content

By Sebastian Cuttill

15 Dec 2021

Our Public Affairs Executive reflects on 2021 and makes predictions for what publishing holds in 2022.

Since the advent of the pandemic, the consumer magazine and business media industry has undergone an unprecedented period of disruption. Yet that disruption, combined with the prevailing digital transformation of specialist media businesses, presents an immense opportunity.

The rapid proliferation and dissemination of content online allows consumers to search for very specific topics, whilst the algorithms employed by big tech can find that information with a startling degree of accuracy. Across the globe, organisations of all sizes and focuses are becoming reconciled to the fact that the future of media is destined to be specialist audiences and verticals. The mature specialist media sector in the UK is well-positioned to capitalise on this gravitation towards expertly produced content on highly focused topics.

The rich audience insights that publishers can gain from consumers has already opened up myriad revenue streams. This diversification has been a defining factor in robust performances from many publishers throughout the pandemic; a deep understanding of consumer tastes allows publishers to pivot to consumer trends with astounding agility.

It is important to note that, despite the move towards digital, the print magazine remains central to most publishers’ identity. In an ever more crowded and noisy online space, a print publication can be key in garnering readers’ trust. As concerns grow over media literacy, and the rising tide of misinformation and disinformation, specialist publications stand out as a reliable source of information on a wide range of topics. Indeed, Ofcom’s News Consumption in the UK 2020 Report shows the public consider magazine media to be more trustworthy and accurate than any other media medium.

So, what does all this mean for the future? As our industry looks forward to 2022, we should be confident that specialist media organisations will increasingly become the public’s favoured destination for trusted and reliable content. Through the written word, video, podcasts, advertising, events, data insights, and product marketing, publishers are able to serve an individual’s deep personal interests in the format they most favour.

All this (well warranted) optimism does come with a caveat: the rapid development of the online sphere has left regulators and legislators struggling to catch up. Further complicating matters, the nature of digital regulation means that decisions made by a single national regulator can impact a tech giants global strategy, or influence the policy of Governments worldwide.

In the UK, the Government is preparing to bring forward a Digital Competition Bill which will put the new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) on a statutory footing. The DMU will oversee a new form of regulation for the very largest digital platforms that will look to prevent anti-competitive harms before they occur. Successful implementation could see a rebalancing of the digital advertising market, ensuring publishers can garner fair remuneration for the value that their content brings to digital platforms.

In addition, the Government is looking to bring forward the Online Safety Bill, a ground-breaking attempt to regulate social media and tech giants, giving a ‘duty of care’ to remove harmful or illegal content and protect children. Here, it is critical that content produced by specialist media publishers is protected from the scope of the Bill, ensuring that the public can access trusted information on a range of topics (which is also key for the Government’s online media literacy plans).

Meanwhile, work is also underway to set the new direction for the UK’s data regime, as Brexit means the UK is no longer bound by the EU GDPR. Whilst a more risk-based and proportionate regime could give publishers the freedom to innovate at pace, there is a risk that stark divergence from the EU GDPR could endanger the data adequacy agreement with the EU.

All of these policy initiatives bring a mix of opportunity and risk, and trade-offs between competing Government objectives (such as competition and user privacy) will need to be finely balanced to create a coherent regulatory environment. By championing the interests of publishers, deciphering the complex nature of the issues facing us, and bringing the industry together, PPA is looking forward to what is set to be a defining year for our industry.


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