Publish and be damned

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Bermuda, internet, media, Uncategorized

As someone involved in the media business, I was both interested and puzzled by some of the statements from the new Publishing Division of the Chamber of Commerce, announced this week.

The division said its priority was to restrict publishers of foreign-produced Bermuda publications like Fast Track,, Bermuda Wedding & Honeymoon, and Destination Bermuda from selling advertising to local businesses. It also claims that local publishers do not get the chance to bid on publications like the Bermuda Airport Magazine, which is supported by the Ministry of Transport.

According to spokesman Ian Coles of Bermuda Media, “more than $2 million in advertising revenue leaves the island each year, with no substantive financial benefit to Bermuda. Some advertisers are not aware that they are supporting an overseas enterprise. These overseas publishers operate in direct competition to our companies, which pay local taxes, employ Bermudians, rent office space and do business with a myriad of local suppliers and utilities.”

Falling ad revenues and the disruptive influence of the internet mean these are extremely challenging times for all publishers but some of these comments struck me as either naive wishful thinking or smacked of unproductive head-in-the-sand protectionism.

At the very least it appears to underestimate the nature of global competition that affects every business in Bermuda, while chastising local advertisers for supporting “overseas enterprises” is a bit rich coming from publishers that print virtually all of their magazines overseas and frequently employ overseas writers, editors, photographers, voiceover talent and designers. What’s good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.

In the case of Government publications, there is surely an obligation to explore all local production options first. But to infer that just because someone had a better idea that you somehow deserve a piece of the action is nonsense in a free market economy

Besides, many of these overseas magazines spend money on the island by hiring local writers, photographers, designers and sales people. And also don’t many of these publications directly benefit Bermuda in terms of exposure and promoting local businesses and services?

The main reasons they do not print here are firstly because local printers can neither compete financially nor handle the large print runs required. Also, as the main distribution may take place in North America or elsewhere, it simply doesn’t make sense for them to use a Bermuda printer.

It’s hard to see where the chamber’s argument leads. Apart from the work permit issue, what’s next – insist all “Bermuda” publications are printed here or face punitive import duty? Talk about turkeys voting for Christmas!

And while we’re at it, what about ads produced by overseas agencies for local companies? Is the next step to insist local magazines only carry ads designed and produced locally?

And by extension does the chamber think that local advertisers shouldn’t buy space on international websites? It is the ubiquity of an always-on Internet and mobile devices that are the real long-term threat to physical publications. Indeed, calling for tougher work permit restrictions on overseas sales people is likely to be ineffective as solicitation by email and phone is so easy.

Opposing it is, as one colleague aptly put it, like using a cage as a fish tank. Outsourcing, technology and the global competition that comes with it are facts of life.

Not everyone will successfully adapt and thrive in the face of relentless change but perhaps we should perhaps do a little less whinging and work harder to improve local products.
Advertisers will support whatever product or platform best reaches their target market and local companies that think nothing of outsourcing their back office operations for the most couldn’t care less where that media come from.

It seems to me that creativity and quality are our best chance of keeping more of those advertising dollars on-island, not heavy-handed, self-serving protectionism.

[Disclosure: I have written extensively for Bermuda Media, The Bermudian, and The Royal Gazette publications and am a former editor of The Bottom Line, RG Magazine and Destination Bermuda. I presently place client advertising with local and international media.]

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