But survivors are beginning to emerge from the digital dust of the last ten years and delegates to the Digital Innovators' Summit in Berlin today heard from two chief executives who have led their companies through the transition.
"Rediscovering our core purpose was the most important step on our journey," said EMAP chief executive Natasha Christie-Miller, advising any business owner needs to understand the job they do for their customers.
EMAP is a leading B2B publisher in the UK, with 20 titles on a range of subjects. The key to maintaining the business through a digital transformation has been in understanding and delivering on the value audiences place in each publication, said Christie-Miller.
One EMAP publication that has been particularly successful in this area is Health Service Journal, employing 27 journalists "who are experts in the NHS", she said, "twice as many as the BBC".
EMAP built HSJ Intelligence over a nine-month period as a data-based service for its readers to better understand the health service.
"HSJ Intelligence built this database product, which includes all the financial data, all the geographic data, demographics about people who worked in those trusts...," explained Christie-Miller.
"But the gold dust was the reports and analysis that our experts created that pulled together all the information in making predictions about future strategies for the [NHS] trusts."
The end product doesn't come cheap, with the average subscription at £12,000 per year, but the point was in finding a way to give the audience more than the traditional editorial product, she said.
At F+W, chief executive David Nussbaum has transformed the publisher of "enthusiast titles" – focussing on craft, art, writing and design – into a growing ecommerce business to supplement editorial.
"Of all enthusiast purchases, 10 per cent is the print product and 90 per cent was everything else around it," he told delegates, so he reorganised F+W to give readers not only the knowledge but the materials for their hobby.When you're an enthusiast media company or B2B, there's nothing more important than the community you serve.David Nussbaum, F+W
And at the core of the organisation are the four Cs: community, commerce, content and curation.
"When you're an enthusiast media company or B2B, there's nothing more important than the community you serve," he said.
So Nussbaum restructured the book or magazine divisions, for example, away from their specific product and towards the community.
"Our consumers need to feel connected because it's what they're passionate about," he said. "Your hobby is deeply in your soul."
Building a direct relationship with the audience in their purchases rather than through a third-party retailer like Amazon strengthened the business further, and expanding content types into videos and e-learning has continued to broaden F+W's appeal, said Nussbaum.
But curation has become central in strengthening relationships across the other tenets as it gives the feeling of "coming home", he said.
"You're coming to a place where like minded people are congregating and buying stuff and speaking to you in your language," he said.
"Amazon looks like a huge mall", he said, but niche publishers can make themselves the go-to destination for specific topics, hobbies and enthusiasts, giving the audience an experience and product they truly value.