Non-media media owners – their rise and rise

November 21, 2012 1:07 pm

Is a publication from a supermarket chain, Tesco Magazine, now the largest in the UK, ahead of tabloids such as The Sun and The Mail? It’s certainly not online and even in print the figures are contestable. But it’s a stat that has travelled far and wide over the past few days.

We think that regardless of the precise numbers it points to something much more important.

That kind of customer mag has been around for a long time. But might there be a future for such titles – by no means all of them – as media-grade publications that take the place of traditional, waning outlets?

At the weekend we retweeted a link to a piece by Tom Foremski on ZDNet called Is the future of serious journalism in the hands of corporate media?  (Disclosure: I used to be the publisher of ZDNet in the UK and now my company makes possible so-called corporate media.) 

Citing examples from companies such as Cisco, Intel and Nissan he asks whether these sorts of players are the media owners of the future. The post starts by sounding sceptical notes. By the end it is more positive.

Are we really ready to get sports news from a mobile network, business features from a bank and celebrity gossip from our favourite shop?

Some readers have always found it strange to find sports news at the back of the FT – and that’s with exceptional writing over the years from the likes of Simon Kuper.

So why is now the right time for corporate media? I can think of at least three major reasons:

First, there are gaps in the market, increasingly so, where established media (mainly print or online – this isn’t a broadcast phenomenon, yet) used to stand. Some companies will step in because they can.

Second, as Foremski points out, there isn’t the same profit motive.  (Note the BBC and a handful of other public service broadcasters are the exceptions around the world). These non-media media owners need to run titles inasmuch as they help them make money from their core business. An online publication that a traditional media owner would consider loss-making might be worth it for that company because of the high-end database of prospects and other data it generates, not to mention the gravitas it might bring. (See also: Oligarch ownership.)

Lastly, I wouldn’t necessarily have said this was possible 10 years ago but something big has changed. While customer mags existed back then, in the intervening decade the internet has come of age and in the last five years social media. It is now widely accepted that we can all get content from friends or contacts, from what some still call ‘citizen journalism’ or from anywhere that feels right.

In short, the last few years have turned up the volume on the mantra ‘If it’s good enough, I don’t care where it’s coming from’. And that means an opportunity for all kinds of (non-media) companies.

*photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc

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