Business press struggles with Google-influenced industry crisis

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After several years of advertising slump and fifteen years of free Internet content, the business media sector now faces its own crisis, mirroring the one faced by the ailing print press.

Meeting in Frankfurt on 21 March, editors and publishers of the European Business Press association tried to point a finger at regulatory and competitive threats. It also examined how innovation could lift the sector out of crisis.

Business press finances have been dented by a combination of factors.

Subscription revenues are constrained by free content online, while language and cultural barriers create small national markets, typically able to sustain only one or  two publications per segment.

As one expert put it “only one [business media] per country can be profitable”. Another said that “in the media sector, we are in a permanent restructuring situation”.

To leverage their trusted brand for new services, media groups try to enhance the user experience by getting closer to their readers. But they are constrained, by regulatory restrictions on data protection, and by the unwillingness of platforms like Apple's iStore to provide end user data.

Google competition cases

Technology increases online readership and reduces advertising revenue, as rates are much lower for web banners than for print pages. Ensuing price reductions are made worse by the reduced advertising share of traditional media.

Indeed, Google has extended its search dominance into advertising dominance, and now promotes its own content like YouTube or Google Maps, media groups claim. This has been aggravated by the higher costs of hiring journalists, compared to content aggregation, and increased the attractiveness of online pay-for-content models.

Several media associations are now supporting legal cases against Google.

Restructuring under way

Media situations range across Europe from awful to dramatic or simply difficult, participants stressed. But all agreed that solving the crisis started with maintaining good quality journalism – and journalists' pay.

Antonis Papagiannidis of the Economia group said that the Greek media were either closing down, or restructuring and lay off many journalists. Even large newspapers such as Eleftherotypia  and Eleftheros Typos had stopped publication over parts of last year.

However, some strong blogs are run by former journalists, such as Iefimerida and news 247. The two-year old was also an early bird in that ´crisis triggered wave´.

From the larger Italian market, Gabriele Capolino of Milano Finanza, underscored growing market pressures. He identified a proliferation of under-capitalised publications and online offers, in a market controlled by three actors: the Berlusconi empire, State TV and Google.

Innovative products and funding models

Against this bleak backdrop, some light was shed by Max von Abendroth, from the European Media Magazine Association. 

He said that regulatory pressures facing the sector included data protection limiting marketing, copyright issues, and the slow handling of Google files by competition authorities. The upcoming Future Media Lab on `creative funding for creative media´ could highlight some innovative solutions which vary from philanthropic funding to public funding and crowd financing, but also the use of new technologies, he added.

In a similar vein, Jörg Mertens of Handelsblatt unpacked several opportunities to develop  brand identities and new services. These included a research centre delivering paid analysis beyond media coverage, as well as  complementing memberships and subscriptions by meetings with politicians.

EBP, the European Business Press Association, includes 48 publications from 27 countries, all focusing on business and finance. EURACTIV is a member fo the EBP. All members meet once a year to benchmark innovations, learn from each other, and coordinate actions.

Media associations lobby the EU on a set  of issues, such as advertising regulation, data protection, defamation liability.

To tackle the crisis in the sector, so far there has been little talk about outright European financial aid to the media sector, despite the existence of such schemes in several EU countries.

>> Read our LinksDossier: The press in Europe: Freedom and pluralism at risk

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