Verticality is something the very large and successful professional publishers figured out for themselves fifteen years ago.
Thomson, Reed-Elsevier and Pearson all foresaw the need to focus on global professional communities as the supply chain differences in media (magazines different from books different from training manuals different from loose-leaf different from directories etc ) began to become less important in a digital world.
This theory of verticality has rooted now firmly in our digital landscape – albeit under the fluffier sobriquet of “community”.
If there are no supply chain reasons to structure operations differently, and your customers are increasingly operating digitally, then you have little other choice.
What was interesting is that during the time period when this was all becoming clear, many publishing groups rushed to consolidate and protect their traditional models. They pushed more meat through the sausage machine. Being bigger meant more back office savings and supplier leverage – and put off the day when the challenge to their fundamental business models had to be faced.
Thus did they compound the problem of becoming vertical by becoming even more market diverse! How does one secure vertical integration for one market, when one is in twenty?
For the natural vertical players in traditional publishing – the Nature s and the BMJ s – it was never really a problem. Rooted in history and their professional communities, they just had to get to know the digital world and allocate (albeit with courage and imagination) monies to R&D and they would and do survive and thrive.
But for the larger and especially for the B2B conglomerates the day of reckoning is surely to hand.
Step forward then natural community players – such as the Associations – with their history, their links into professional learning and qualifications. Will they step forward to embrace a digital world which exactly suits their vertical positions? Or will their natural committee led decision-making and cultural aversion to sudden demarches into unknown territory mean that they will repeat the failures of many of the B2B players?
Can the BMJ haul the BMA into the new century? Can the IET’s new branding and focus on “Global Knowledge” translate into sustainable revenue streams in a world of lessening professional affiliations?
We shall see – but one thing is certain: the challenge of digital publishing innovation now rests with a far more diverse range of organisations than publishers themselves.
The theory of verticality will now be truly tested!