From the street, Tokyo-based publisher Toyokeizai looks like a typical publisher. However, what is happening inside the building is nothing short of extraordinary. Recently, Mr. Norihiko Sasaki, Editor-in-Chief for Toyokeizai Online, and his talented team have increased page views from 7 million to 53 million in only six months! In a recent interview, Sasaki-san shared his recipe for success within the highly competitive space of news publishing for the Japanese business community.
Toyokeizai has a successful legacy within print that reaches as far back as 1895. One of its cornerstone magazines is the weekly Toyo Keizai, one of Japan’s leading business magazines. It also manages a directory of all companies in Japan which is printed in the Japan Company Handbook. However, when Toyokeizai moved to digital it needed to make several strategic decisions regarding its relationship with its print business. The question Toyokeizai fundamentally asked itself is: “If we didn’t have an existing publishing business, how could we best build a new one?”
Target the younger generation
Beginning with an outside-in perspective, Sasaki-san and team reviewed the demographics in the market. What they identified is that the Baby Boomers in Japan were approaching their retirement years. This market segment had represented a loyal readership to the print industry and continued to subscribe to print newspapers. The data indicated that the 50- to 70-year age group represented 49% to 78% of the newspaper readers. However, when they dug deeper into the data they identified a new market segment, the ‘Baby Boomer Jr’.
Further research on the ‘Baby Boomer Jrs’ showed that the percentage of online news readers for ages 20 to 49 was between 73% and 40%. This represented a near inverse relationship to the demographics of print demand. Instead of competing in the existing and crowded market space of business news that appeals to the senior demographic, Sasaki-san focused on the uncontested market space amongst the ‘Baby Boomer Jr’ segment. Currently, readers aged 20 to 49 years old account for 80% of his audience.
To complement their targeted approach, the editorial team crafted a strategy of creating content that was dedicated to building an engaging digital experience. According to Sasaki-san, “Nearly 90% of the content is original and created exclusively for our website.” Readers won’t find the same articles written on Toyokeizai Online as they will in the Toyo Keizai weekly magazine. The print and digital businesses are kept separate to allow each the opportunity to experiment and flourish on its own.
Unfortunately, too many print publishers use their online properties as simply a new distribution channel. In a futile attempt to stave off declines in circulation, some publishers force their readers to buy print along with their digital subscriptions. The downside of this strategy is that it restrains the digital business from exploring the potential of combining new resources, activities and revenue models. The innovation required of a publisher to move from print to digital is perhaps best summarised by Geoffrey Moore. He once compared big companies trying to innovate their businesses to right-handed people writing with their left hands. All the apparatus may be in place, but if the organisation isn’t in the habit of innovating, it will always be an awkward affair. Toyokeizai realised this early on and kept their print and web businesses separate.
Toyokeizai is also exploring and expanding its reach through partnerships. Currently, it partners with Reuters, New York Times, Business Today in Taiwan, and the Korea Joongang Daily Economist. “We are pursuing a syndication strategy so that our site can evolve from a niche magazine media to a comprehensive business media that young business people visit every day,” says Sasaki-san. Since they’ve just started syndication, it’s too early to draw any conclusions about its impact.
Sasaki-san and team are growing their business following a strategy to focus on an audience of 20-49 year olds, providing them engaging content designed exclusively for the web, and ensuring that their reach extends well beyond the borders of Japan. It’s no surprise that they’ve raised their goal from becoming No. 1 in business online media in Japan to becoming No. 1 in business online media in Asia.
*Source: Toyokeizai Online Corporate Presentation, Sept 2013