Standing tall in a difficult year for publishing

by Josh Sosland
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Josh Sosland

In reviewing the performance of Sosland Publishing Co. for this traditional annual report to our readers, it is rare that we benchmark our achievements against what transpired in the media world more generally. While business-to-business publishers certainly are not immune from transformational shifts affecting the sector, leading developments in the publishing world at large from one year to the next typically do not mirror or even shed much light on the progress or fortunes of Sosland.

In this regard, 2016 was different when it comes to the most fundamental imperative for any publishing company — maintaining the basic trust of its readers. Looking at the precipitous decline of pollsters from a vaunted position of perceived precision, the emergence of “fake news” as a force shaping public opinion, questioning how the media covered the 2016 presidential election to salacious revelations prompting an embarrassing shakeup at a prominent television news network, it is easily concluded that the news industry experienced unprecedented shocks in 2016. At the same time, a number of well-known print periodicals shut down, while many others reorganized or contemplated shifts to all-digital formats.

Against this backdrop, numerous indicators point positively to the place this company has maintained in grain-based foods and the role its publications, products and people continue to play within the industry. Exclusive interviews (for the record and on background) of some of the most distinguished leaders of grain-based foods as well as tours of the newest production plants underscore the position this company maintains among its constituents. Without question, this is our most revered asset.

From the perspective of financial health, overall S.P.C. revenues in 2016 edged upward from 2015 across the company’s array of publications with particularly strong gains scored by Baking & Snack and bake magazines. The October issue of Baking & Snack weighed in at 240 pages, the largest regular issue published in this company’s 95-year history. A particular source of pride was the company’s continued and increasing role in helping make the International Baking Industry Exposition a success.

Attendance at the annual Purchasing Seminar in June jumped to a record 834, easily eclipsing earlier peaks and further cementing the centrality of this annual gathering for food processing purchasing executives responsible for the procurement of billions of dollars of ingredients each year.

Print publishing has proven far more resilient in the business-to-business world than predicted when the internet became a popular source of news more than 15 years ago. Despite the impressive staying power of paper and ink as a source of industry news, digital readership of S.P.C. products has been growing at an eye-popping rate. Web page views across all sites in 2016 were on track in mid-December to reach 8,563,000, a total 7% above ambitious goals set for the company at the start of the year and 17% above views in 2015. While bakingbusiness.com performed well, heading toward 1,320,000 views (5% above goal and 12% over 2015), it has been foodbusinessnews.net that has stood out as the pacesetter. The site accounted for more than 50% of the company’s page views with a projected total of 4,630,000, 16% above goal and 28% over 2015. Digital advertising sales grew 10% across the company’s various titles and products.

The year has not been without its trials. A consolidating advertiser base continues to pose challenges. Strength in the U.S. dollar created a difficult environment for World Grain. While overall revenues continued to migrate toward digital from print, the move is progressing more slowly than expected. And to the degree this company’s fortunes echo those of its readers, a rising proportion of ingredient suppliers and food companies saw their operating environments grow more difficult as the year progressed. Still, to have emerged from 2016 as a media company with its reputation intact fills us with pride and leaves us more confident than ever in our ability to serve our readers and advertisers as they pursue paths toward renewed strength in the year ahead.

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