The “change” that (trade) publishing as an industry needs is coming along more slowly than many observers and commentators thought. As policy, platforms and technology continue to zip through iteration after iteration with mesmerizing speed, the cultural issues with parts of the industry seem to keep dragging, with the odd exception. The deeper structural problems, too, drag, masked by (admittedly) a healthy and intelligence response to the latest in publishing infotech.
As I read it, it is a fairly low situation. A multi, multi million pound industry with barely any competing trade publications: a distinct aversion to scrutiny beyond investor relations and news of employee moves. As you radiate outwards away from cultural gatekeeping, some normality resumes or returns. When scandal breaks, the same lines are drawn, time and time again. There are the usual monomodal line ups and articles on non-controversial concerns, with the occasional foray into actual news and commentary. The big players in the industry seemed to motor through the pandemic but have not really rewarded their staff beyond hybrid work patterns, choosing rather, in the short term, to nudge up exec pay and dividends. The work from home conversations have been badly handled by some big players and the “big rebalancing” is thwarted where presentee-ism is still so ingrained. A disturbing trend of apparently policing social media has emerged from central HR departments, one that has been a decade in the making.
When much of an industry can’t take on board a pandemic to consider the bigger picture, and in fact lurches further towards consolidation to help balance sheets, can’t take an inflexion point or start a learning and change curve, then bigger questions veer into view: what if there is no incentive to fix BAU, when BAU is essentially robust and profitable (albeit with caveats, and even then mostly around a continuing M & A model as the engine of growth), and what if the only real change will come, slowly and surely, from start ups, co-operatives and those on the margins – who want a different economic model than a pyramid? Was it always going to be that way? Will those start ups also be eventually consumed by five or six big spinning wheels, thus resetting the dial? Will there be further consolidation as we navigate the choppy waters of a rocky economy yet to grapple with some serious structural problems? I know of much smarter commentators than myself who track these things and if anything it is harder and harder to pick out a clear direction. Eventually, we’ll know.