With an inevitability that would make an Ancient Greek dramatist utter a long, low whistle of appreciation, the ongoing tragedy of Future Publishing moves into yet another act.
This week Mark “Dead” Wood has announced 55 redundancies – on top of the vacancies that haven’t been filled since it introduced a recruitment freeze in July. Dead has blamed (again) the delay in the launches of new games consoles (an argument wonderfully skewered by MCV in July) and the bumpiness of the road to digital. And expect both these arguments to be taken out for long walks again later in the year.
The underlying problems of Future are twofold – the short termism that being a publicly-quoted company engenders, forever chasing a positive spin to put onto its City trading updates, and the fact that Future has always had pretensions to be a Premiership side when really they’re towards the foot of the Championship. They are not Celtic or Aberdeen, more a Morton or a Cowdenbeath.
To see what I mean just look at their portfolio of titles; there are no big, skyscraper brands, but a collection of niche and small scale titles. There’s nothing to provide critical mass for support and development services, no cash generator to underwrite launches and experiments, just a bunch of rapidly-declining products. (In the 2012 ABCs only two of Future’s 38 titles had a circulation of over 50,000, and one of those has since been sold).
That’s not to say that these products aren’t good, nor that the people putting them together aren’t. But big brands in big companies have more resilience in tough markets and can continue to increase market share (in ads and copy sales) even as the overall market declines. They can also justify extra investment to maintain their quality and their pre-eminence. Niche titles in small companies can survive as their overheads are low and their connection to their markets strong. Future’s publishing model doesn’t fit either of these.
As with all the best tragedies we know that there is more bad news to come, it’s a matter of when, not if.