Welcome back to another edition of the Baekdal Plus newsletter. Today we are going to talk about the revenue, monetization and workflow outlooks that we might see after the COVID-19 crisis is all over.
Everyone in the industry is obviously talking about how this crisis is impacting publishers, and obviously, publishers are trying to do everything they can right now to manage it all.
But the really big question is what will happen in the future? How will this affect our market, our subscriptions, our advertising, our newsletters, events, and podcasts?
This is my focus in my latest Plus report. In it, I take you through the trends we see, how they will impact different areas of our business models, and what to look out for.
It's quite a lengthy report because there is a lot to cover, but take a look at: What will happen to publishers after COVID-19?
The above report is focusing on the business models, but another thing impacted by COVID-19 is the way we work.
Obviously, we have seen many crazy things over the past couple of weeks. We see people go absolutely nuts with how they are using Zoom, often creating 25-people-meetings and parties.
This, of course, is not going to last. For one thing, having a 25+ people party over Zoom is not really that enjoyable. So, many of the things people do right now are not going to last. As soon as they can have normal parties and go back to the office again, these Zoom parties and daily all-hands virtual meetings will go away.
But there are other things that publishers can learn from. I want to talk about one specific thing: The cost of production.
Because of COVID-19, many publishers are learning how much they can actually do with a much smaller group of people.
There is an interesting article in WWD about this talking about Hearst Magazines, and how their usual massive photoshoots now suddenly have to be done by a much smaller group of people.
As they wrote:
Back in mid-February, Hearst Magazines head of photo Alix Campbell was at Milk Studios in Chelsea overseeing a naked Dua Lipa, partially covered by a multicolored sequin guitar, pose for the cover of Elle's just-released May issue. Around 18 people rushed around the set - a mix of stylists, hairdressers and makeup artists primping and preening the "One Kiss" singer, while others were tasked with making sure the lighting was perfect and the crew was well fed.
This may sound excessive to those outside the fashion world, but for a company that orchestrated Rihanna swimming with sharks and who found a giraffe that Demi Moore could feed on a beach at the whim of Harper's Bazaar's former editor in chief Glenda Bailey, the Dua Lipa shoot was considered a small production.
So... 18 people is a 'small production'.
I'm not really surprised. I used to work for a big company, and I have seen crazy things like this too. But you don't need this many people to do this.
And they are now talking about how they are doing photoshoots today. As they explain:
Just a few weeks ago, the name and pedigree of a photographer was the most important factor for a magazine. Now you're hot property depending on who you cohabitate with. Hearst has found a number of photographers who have a model partner they can shoot in the safety of their own homes, while those with chef spouses have also come in handy for the likes of Good Housekeeping. In most cases, they've styled everything themselves with a Hearst rep directing over Zoom. "We've been very very fortunate to find all these little pockets of photographers around the country that are sort of self-contained and can produce a photoshoot with bare bones," said Campbell.
In some instances, they even have their own studio at home. Obviously it's not like shooting at Milk or Pier 59, but just a safe space where they can shoot so we've been doing things like that.
So they are managing, which is great ... but you can kind of hear the resentment in this. They are saying "It's not like Milk or Pier 59."
They also talked about how they now have to manage with less:
At a shoot like the one held in February for Dua Lipa, around eight trunks of clothes would have arrived on set at Milk Studios despite the fact that she didn't even wear anything in one of the covers. Now, stylists and photographers have to make do with just one because of the difficulty of obtaining clothing. "Everything that's in that edit is thoughtful and makes sense together and we're able to get by. The quality is the same, the quantity is less," said Campbell.
Okay... great. But, if the quality is the same, why did you need 8 trunks of clothes?
Another example is the entourage. They wrote;
A-listers are notorious for being accompanied by a large entourage, especially at shoots. But at a recent cover shoot for Esquire's summer issue in Los Angeles, there was only a movie star and his family friend, who happened to be a photographer. After quarantining separately for two weeks, they met at a sanitized location and got to work. "You would never know there wasn't a crew of 20 people there when you see the pictures and it was literally two people.
Again, great. But if the audience can't tell the difference whether there are 20 people or two, why do you have 20 people there?
What we also have to consider is what they got out of this. Obviously, I don't have any internal analytics from Elle (nor did I ask for it), but what I can do is to look at how the content performs in other places.
For instance, we can look at how many times their article was shared on Facebook. And the answer is only 233 times.
We can also go to Elle's Facebook page, and look up when they posted it themselves, and see what kind of response they got from it. The answer is 75 reactions, 5 comments and only 4 shares.
So... that's kind of nothing.
On Instagram, it's slightly better. Here the post got around 29,000+ likes. But it's still not that impressive. Many Instagram influencers get 100,000+ likes on their posts every day. In fact, if we go to Dua Lipa's own instagram, she also posted about it, and her post has 2.1 million likes.
Again, I don't know how this worked internally. I hope it sold a lot of magazines, and that Elle got a ton of page views, but I'm not seeing any indication that they did when we look at the external factors.
And think about this. Elle had 18 people at this photoshoot. But not only that, look at the photo above. She is just standing in front of a white wall.
So it took 18 people to go to Milk, a very expensive photo studio in New York (or Los Angeles), to have her stand in front of a white wall. And that's just the photoshoot itself. Add to that the cost of whatever Elle had to do internally once they got all the photos back.
Sure, the photos are beautiful and the lighting is exceptional, but I don't even want to guess how much money this costs.
And now COVID-19 is forcing publishers to rethink this, and they are learning that there are so many ways you could do the same thing, but for a fraction of the cost and with far fewer resources.
Now, I don't really think that Elle will change because of this. I think that as soon as they can go back to Milk Studios, they will... but for the rest of the industry, this is something worth thinking about.
But more than that, the digital natives already know how to do this, both efficiently and at very high quality.
For instance, in the WWD article, they talked about how chefs could have their spouses do some of the camera work. That's nice, but it doesn't sound very good. But, YouTubers do this every day, and their quality is exceptional.
Here is just one example:
This chef and YouTuber is creating tons of really great videos, and everything here is done by himself. He is not only the chef. He is also the interviewer, the camera person, the audio person, the lighting person, the editor ... everything.
And the quality of this video is amazing.
And there are thousands of YouTubers who do this every day. They don't have a massive team of 18 people to run around behind the camera. Why would you even need that?
It's the same with popular influencers on Instagram. Many have far more popular channels than traditional publishers, and they are posting amazing pictures every day ... and they also don't have 18 people with them on every photoshoot.
Just trying to manage having 18 people in order to take a few photos would make the entire photoshoot massively inefficient.
And this is the problem we see with traditional publishers. If you compare the amount of resource hours/cost to how many people see the content you create, traditional publishers are using resources at a massively disproportional rate compared to anyone else in the digital world. And, what we see now is that COVID-19 is acting like a wake-up call.
So, the fascinating question is, how big an impact this will have on the future of work? How many publishers will actually change because of this? And it isn't just about photoshoots, it's about all the different ways you work.
We have seen similar stories where publishers are realizing that they can actually produce their work from home. So, why do you actually need a big and expensive office in the most expensive cities?
Again, I don't see publishers actually closing their offices, but there are a lot of questions to be asked about why traditional companies need all these big expenses when digital native publishers don't need them to the same extent.
Mind you, I'm not arguing that in the future we should all live at home and be isolated from each other. Nor do I think a good future is one where the only form of social contact is via Zoom. That doesn't work for most people either.
But there is so much we could learn from the flexible, super-efficient and much more self-reliant way of working that the digital natives are used to doing.
BTW: I'm working on an article specifically about this, where I talk about how you would actually structure that to be able to work this way. It's very different from the office structure, and it's very different from how people these days are Zooming to get things done.
So stay tuned for that :)
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Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter
"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé