Tangible Media has followed in the footsteps of international publications like The Independent by ceasing the print publication of NZ Fishing World and focusing exclusively on the digital media business.
“It was just a rational decision,” says NZ Fishing World associate publisher and editor Jeff Strang.
“I consider myself to be a digital native. I’ve been fascinated by the internet since the first time it slowly crawled down my screen, and I’m a real believer in the diversified revenue opportunities a digital media company can explore. It changes the way you think about media.”
Strang says the publication still had strong subscriber numbers, but wasn’t getting the same levels of advertising support it previously had.
“We didn’t have an audience problem,” says Strang. “In fact, from a market share perspective, we have been growing, but it’s equally true that the overall paid copy category has been shrinking and we don’t see that changing. On the other side of the desk the digital audience has exploded, demanding resources and focus we really didn’t have to offer.”
Tangible Media chief executive John Baker says these tough market circumstances meant the NZ Fishing World team had to take action.
“We had choices to make: close down or sell, scale up to exploit the digital opportunity or invest in a digital only business,” Baker says.
“We chose to invest in digital.”
As part of this shift to digital, NZ Fishing World’s subscribers will be moved across to competing publication Fishing News.
While it is somewhat unusual for two competitors to be collaborating in this way, Strang says he wanted to leave his current subscribers in good hands.
“The reason I personally chose Fishing News is because it’s probably the strongest player in the market by a factor of three,” Strang says. “And if I’m going to entrust our readers to anyone, I want it to be to the best.”
Fairfax’s decision to sell NZ Fishing News to the publication’s editor Grant Dixon and Grant Blair (the owner of recreational fishing website fishing.net.nz) essentially opened the door to the collaboration.
“I think it would’ve been more difficult at an executive level if Fairfax still owned the publication,” says Strang.
The relationship between Strang and Dixon goes back roughly two decades to when the pair met at a snapper fishing competition in the Bay of Islands.
“We have drunk many rums together,” jokes Strang.
“I was a young up-and-coming fishing guide, and I wanted to explore some of the opportunities outside of fishing. I always liked penning a story, but I wasn’t very good at it. So, I approached him and asked how he would feel if I sent him a story. I sent him some copy and he sent back with a lot corrections.”
Dixon became something of writing mentor to Strang over the years, ushering him into the publishing world by first giving him a regular column in the magazine and then serving as a referee when Strang applied for a job at Bauer.
While the partnership has not been as strong in recent years, with the pair competing directly through NZ Fishing World and NZ Fishing News, Strang says he has always retained a massive amount of respect for the work Dixon does.
And these respect is mutual, with Dixon saying that he looks forward to working with Strang and the team at Tangible.
"Our intention is to offer both the industry and the fishing public a package over both platforms that continues to deliver strong results," says Dixon. "We are pleased to be able to partner with NZ Fishing World in what is a continually changing commercial environment."
This collaborative move ensures that NZ Fishing World subscribers who still want a print product have that option, while simultaneously freeing up Strang and his team to focus on digital.
Strang says he sees many media businesses trying to thumbtack digital onto their model without actually investing in the channel, and believes this is why so many digital efforts fail. “They treat the digital channel as if it’s consumed like print, which it isn’t. It also a hungry beast that must be fed three or more meals a day, unlike a periodical.”
“If a magazine business has a really strong revenue base and wants to explore, they need to up their resourcing,” he argues. “I don’t think you should be stretching your magazine resources online to create a digital product. I don’t think that’s the answer. I think that has potential consequences on both businesses.”
He says the decision to focus on digital is already showing great promise.
“The market reaction has been fantastic. We’ve had some clients who have responded so positively that they’ve increased their funding.”
Strang says dropping the magazine allows his team to add value to the major growth area of the business—something he believes was difficult when trying to sell across both print and digital.
“We could see the demand, but we weren’t capitalising on it,” says Strang. “To be honest, what I see happening in print and digital businesses sold in parallel is that you often give away digital advertising to get print ads. In order to fill those print pages, you’re giving away too much. But if you take print away, it means clients have to be involved with your digital product.”
Of course there still might be clients interested in having their brand stories told in print, and Strang says this will still be possible through his collaboration with Dixon.
“We still have clients looking to access a print audience,” says Strang. “And opportunities to partner with NZ Fishing News on campaign projects is something we are enthusiastic about.”
In taking this approach, Strang hopes to add value to—and sell—the work his team does in terms of crafting stories that brands want to tell. This is a major shift from the previous mindset of selling an advertising slot in magazine, but it is becoming increasingly important with more clients demanding native advertising, particularly in the online context.
And this will likely mean that Strang and Dixon could potentially share a few more rums over the next year.