Medical Observer and its iconic stable mate Australian Doctor were in shock this week after they were confronted by an old friend they thought they’d lost when they came under the one publishing house some two years ago – the anxiety and Tension of a competitor.
The launch of a vibrant new medical media group this week – complete with a colourful tabloid fortnightly newspaper (hang on a minute, isn’t print dead or dying…are these people crazy?) came as a surprise to many in the medical media market. Few were more surprised than iconic weekly newspaper brands Medical Observer and Australian Doctor, both of whom now reside with one publishing company, after Cirrus Media acquired Medical Observer – until then its fiercest rival – about two years ago.
The Medical Republic Group, is the the brainchild of B&T owners and re-developers, The Misfits Media Company, which was formed by two ex-publishers of Cirrus Media just over a year ago, after they completed a management buy-out of the B&T and Travel Weekly brands.
Misfits CEO and B&T Editor David Hovenden said that when the idea was first put to him and his partner Dan Uglow by a colleague recently they thought it was pretty stupid.
“Healthcare is about to go through a fascinating time of change with disruption and its a reasonably big market,” Hovenden said. “But the investment to get in and make it against the likes of Cirrus, which owns two 100 pound gorilla brands and the likes of the RACGP and the AMA? We laughed it off at first”
“But we do like the concept of ‘stupid’. There’s often something big and dreamy on the other side of the ‘stupid-brave’ divide. We changed our minds, got some friends and our bank to pitch in another mortgage or two and got started.”
That was only three months ago and this week the first issue of their fortnightly newspaper launched.
The good start might have been something to do with the team they managed to rope in. Ex Cirrus CEO and Australian Doctor and New Scientist publisher, Jeremy Knibbs; Dr Kerri Parnell, one of Australian Doctor‘s longest serving editors; academic, activist and emergency doctor, Dr Ursula King; Frazer MacKenzie-Andrew, well known past sales and marketing manager from Medical Observer and a cast of medical editors and journos from the likes of The Medical Journal of Australia, Sydney University, We Are Social (the global social analytics agency), even Southern Cross Austereo – which is where their digital director came from.
“Its a very creative and passionate group and they already love it,” said Hovenden. “We’re coming in hot with passion, purpose and a creative new approach. Our print is spectacular and different, our digital is shiny and new and device agnostic and we’re focussing on doctors who are in the growth phase of their careers in a digital era.”
Editor-in-Chief, Dr Kerri Parnell said she felt a little nervous when she was first asked because she wasn’t sure that there was a strong enough reason to add more reading to the in-trays and mobiles of already time-starved doctors.
“GPs usually have about five balls in the air, and sometimes a few chainsaws and a fire torch as well. On a quiet day. We needed a good reason to be doing this and a good way in. But I soon realised that this venture was firmly looking to the future. That it would be engaging and enabling doctors to meet the very real challenges of digital disruption, a failing and disconnected healthcare system, incorrect incentives for quality care and wasteful state-federal face-offs.”
“We believe the health of Australians can be enhanced by better supported and connected primary care, patient empowerment, shared decision making, enriched continuing education and seamless information sharing across the entire health system. ”
Publisher Jeremy Knibbs thinks there isn’t a better time to get back into the medical media sector. “Digital disruption has hardly hit medicine, but it’s about to through things like cloud based scriptwriters, ingestible sensors and the like. The opportunity such change provides is to significantly improve the working lives of GPs, especially the generation who frame their lives around mobile and social. GPs are the most efficient component of our healthcare system today, despite the challenges of being generalists in the information age, and they will need to be in the future if the system is to retain its integrity. We’re here to facilitate that with a fresh approach”.
Why print then?
Knibbs quotes two reasons: “It’s overly simplistic and sometimes misleading to clients to say print is a dead duck. Its not what it was certainly and its not for some markets. You should always look carefully at how your audience is changing its information consumption and adapt. But I don’t think you could say that New Scientist, Monocle, The Economist , The Atlantic and VICE are bad businesses because they have strong print components. We love those businesses. They are creative and tap into their audience’s souls. Print can be very soulful if engineered for the times. On top of this we have a luxury in medical media in that print readership is extremely high and remains so, even among young readers.”
“Cirrus has dropped readership on their papers a lot this year but only because they’ve ignored and starved them, not because print is declining. It’s a mistake. Print is still very effective in this market if done the right way.”
But Knibbs sees digital as the group’s engagement, growth and innovation engine. The group has spent a lot of time thinking about its evolving digital presence. To start we have a relatively simple but shiny mobile-first offering. We are only at beta today. But we are building a social analytics back end with We Are Social which we’ll switch on when the traffic and data starts to flow and we’ve tested properly.”
Until now doctors have been slow to adopt digital at work because they’ve been tied to their desks by their scriptwriters and the healthcare sector worries obsessively (and necessarily) about privacy, regulation and data. “But that’s all about to change,” said Knibbs. “Highly secure cloud systems are here. Doctors are going mobile with patient management. Digital tech is going to meet bio-tech in the middle. When this happens none of us – patients or doctors – will know ourselves. Its going to be a wild and fun ride.”