Tomorrow's world? Future's digital revenues compensate for print ad decline

Future Publishing was another company delivering better-than-feared results today.

Several months ago, chief executive Stevie Spring provoked smiles among perennial Future-watchers by suggesting that the company would cope with a downturn relatively well.

The reason for this, Spring suggested, was Future's status as a special interest publisher. In a downturn, its typical reader would behave less like a shopper in Marks & Spencer and more like a B2B professional whose appetite for tailored content remains constant.

At the time, this felt like a bit of a stretch, but Future's results for the nine months to the end of June -- released today -- suggest that Spring might have been on the right track.

Revenue across the nine-month period increased by 1%. Interestingly, however, revenues for Q2 (March-June) grew by 5% YOY. And Future stuck to its forecast for profits at the year-end (which will arrive at the end of September).

Happily, Future's online adventures appear to be performing to plan. It's a testament to Spring that a company that used to be an also-ran in terms of sales culture is now capable of saying this in an earnings release:

A 39% increase in online advertising revenue more than offset a 2% reduction in print advertising revenue.

For many, many other media companies, this objective remains out of reach.

The more 2.0-oriented among you will also be intrigued by the news that Future Publishing has spent £1.5m on BallHype, an 18-month-old US start-up that operates Digg-style aggregation sites.

At the moment, Future's new acquisition aggregates blog posts in entertainment and sports.

Of course Jeff "Link To The Rest" Jarvis would love it. Indeed, looking at Future's deal, the big, fat, obvious question that forms in my mind is: why isn't Conde Nast, Emap or IPC doing this already?

A few others follow on behind, of course. Can Future monetize the audience? Is £1.5m a steep price to pay for "proprietary" technology that seems to rely upon open source software and Yahoo interfaces?

Oh. And this one: can Future splice this model to its traditional publishing operations? The more common fate of dot.com bolt-ons like BallHype is to languish and droop as Friends Reunited did at ITV. The odds are that this won't happen under Stevie Spring.

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