This was the message shared with delegates at the FIPP Congress, taking place in Rome, on Tuesday (24 September), as part of a session which aimed to outline 'new rules for magazine media'.
While only a few attendees raised their hands when asked who worked for magazines with a digital-first approach, media consultant Peter Kreisky said those taking the lead within the industry, which is "renewing and reinventing", are those who have taken that step.
These organisations – of which he listed 10 as the "top transformers" – are finding success because they "realised that if they did nothing, the industry would fall".
The list includes Hearst, Axel Springer, Conde Nast, Atlantic Media and The Economist. Kreisky identified six lessons other magazine publishers can take away from the the strategies of the "leading" organisations.
1. 'Organise around markets, not products'
Understanding the audience, and then recognising new markets to explore, has proven to be a useful strategy for magazines, which can then develop new products to suit those communities.
Kreisky referred to Meredith, publisher of magazines such as Better Homes, Family Circle and More in the US, as "perhaps the most notable" example of this approach.
The company "got into the new science of big data", he said, by not only separating its audience of women into four main communities, but then diving further into the data and understanding the further niches within those communities.
They "used data to slice and dice their database", he explained, "in order to develop new business that appealed to new niches in it". This included "a set of Meredith shops, video programming", and more.
And the commercial side of the business also benefited, with this "deep customer expertise" also used when working with advertisers.
2. 'Differentiate between print and digital' roles
Magazine publishers should also learn to understand the different roles print and digital each play in the future development of their business.
Those magazines adopting a digital-first strategy, for example, have understood digital is "where all growth in the future lies". Therefore these businesses are becoming the "engines of growth funded by cash flow from traditional businesses".
US media corporation IDG, for example, was quoted as saying that they "manage print for profit and digital for growth".
But while digital may be the place for growth, print still has its place. "Print is still best vanity marketing tool for events," Kreisky explained.
Atlantic Media, owner of The Atlantic and of digitally native business news site Quartz – the launch of which was announced a year ago today – was another organisation held up as a great example of a company which has been "radical and aggressive about implementing a digital-first strategy". Bosses there have also envisioned a future which will be "predominately digital for their content", Kreisky said.
But Kreisky later added that when it comes to revenues, digital-first businesses should not differentiate between "a print dollar and a digital dollar".
3. 'Create branded businesses across platforms'
Taking the magazine brand beyond the flagship title has also proven a successful strategy for digital-first businesses.
Key examples of doing this "to renew" the business, Kreisky explained, can be seen in the way magazine publishers are launching new digital editions on mobile and tablet devices.
But other cases also exist where the launch of new businesses under the magazine brand take them further outside the frame of the main product.
Examples highlighted by Kreisky include "branded ecommerce", such as Shopbazaar from Harper's Bazaar, or "branded data", such as US News & World Report which has established a ranking system for institutions such as colleges, hospitals and law firms.
Another significant example is "branded video". Kreisky used the example of Conde Nast's branded channels. He quoted Conde Nast Media Group president Lou Cona as saying that the company's "goal is nothing short of making digital video as endemic to Conde Nast as the print business".
4. 'Monetise communities'
The importance of the community is undeniable – without audiences, products would not thrive. This has of course always been the case, although Kreisky said traditionally content has been "at the core".
But "community is the new content", he said, with the arrival of a new "community model powered by consumer revenues".
"Communities are driving and are being driven by insights that the editorial teams have of the markets that they are so close to.
"The reason this has become so important", he added, "is the emergence of social media", which he said is "driving connections between these communities".
And magazines are not just fostering these communities, but are also finding ways to monetise them.
Examples include The Economist's Corporate Network, which offers its focused community of like-minded people, "regional business intelligence within a global framework".
The Times also invites its subscribers to join its membership club, Times+, which offers access to "events, offers and extras".
5. 'Invent the future'
Magazine publishers have set about "inventing the future" in a number of ways, from bringing new concepts to the market, such as Atlantic Media's new digital-only site Quartz, or investing in others, to carrying out a restructure of their own business to place an emphasis on areas of growth.
When it comes to investment, Kreisky highlighted venture funds as one example of this, such as Hearst Ventures and its investment in BuzzFeed. Kreisky described BuzzFeed as "probably the most important new format of narrative that has been invented".
Other media outlets have carried out restructures, he added, such as Axel Springer's move to sell "non-core assets" and then "re-invest funds in new digital businesses".
These are "developing far more growth than legacy businesses are today", Kreisky added.
6. 'New organisation and culture model'
On a final note, Kreisky added that all these lessons require "changes from the bottom up" within organisations.
He encouraged publishers to keep their businesses "tailored and lean", with "cross-platform roles at every level". Industry examples include ITG, which he said has just "three layers of management", or Meredith, which operates a photo studio in its office basement for all company photography.
But in making change, and adopting what Kreisky referred to as an "adaptive strategy", publishers need to brace themselves for the potentially rocky road ahead.
"Turbulence and chaos and technological advance is a given," he said.