Future is a collection of over 200 specialist titles that range from gaming and tech (Tech Radar) to homes (Homes & Garden) to beauty and fashion (Who What Wear) to B2B (SmartBrief), Future has established itself as one of the UK’s most successful publishers. (Its current market capitalization puts it at 8x the value of BuzzFeed.) But for its future growth, Future is betting heavily on the U.S. market, which CEO Zillah Byng-Thorne noted to me is five times the size of the UK. The U.S. already represents 35% of Future’s audience as well as 38% of its revenue.
Byng-Thorne is something of a newcomer to the media business. An accountant by training, she joined Future in 2014 as its interim CFO and soon was appointed CEO, tasked with turning around a magazine publisher that, like its peers, was struggling to make a transition from print to digital. Her turnaround plan – she initially cut 40% of employees as the company was recording a £35 million loss in 2014 – has become something of legend, setting the stage for a remarkable financial turnaround as Future became an early adopter of using its niche focus in high-intent categories to drive transactions. The shift to commerce – it is now 34% percent of Future’s revenue – was informed by her previous time at Auto Trader, which made the leap from car magazine to marketplace.
Zillah recounted how her first year at Future, which was on what she describes as a decade-long decline, the key question to answer was: “What’s our right to exist?” Her conclusion: Put the company on firmer financial footing, double down on the expertise embedded in the brands. Future was struggling with the transition from print to digital when Byng-Thorne took over. Beyond that, the diversification needed to be done on the digital side as well since many publishers were overly reliant on digital advertising. Commerce was a way to make money from audiences without the ups and downs inherent to the ad business. Future’s revenue is now roughly split in thirds among advertising, commerce and direct revenue from the audience. Having an acquisitions playbook. Future has spent over £1 billion on acquiring companies since Byng-Thorne took charge. In the past year alone, it has acquired four companies, including Who What Wear and Dennis Publishing and MarieClaire.com. “We integrate fully. I know some of our competitors don't all integrate fully, but for us, it was really important that it's one Future, one tech system, one sales team, one way of working.”
This episode was produced by Jay Sparks from Pod Help Us. If you have podcast production needs, get in touch with Jay.