Monthly Archives: December 2008

What next for the B2B media industry?

The other day I pointed to Paul Conley’s post about the demise of the B2B media industry.

At first glance I thought Paul was writing a similar piece to others I have seen in the blogosphere, commentating on the death spiral of a whole industry. An industry that was steadily being disintermediated by the shift to online media. However, after re-reading and spending the time to look through all the related posts and sites that Paul links to I have come away with a different take.

Yes, big media is clearly struggling – and not just because of the economy – but because, in the main, their whole corporate structure is set up for a very different era.

The majority of the big players – in the UK companies like Emap, Incisive Media, United Business Media, Informa, Reed Business Information, Euromoney, Centaur etc. –  are still structured on the basis that they own the main channels of communication between buyer and seller. While there may be a few competing brands within each vertical marketplace, that’s a very powerful position to be in and allows the market leaders to charge customers premium rates for the introductions they can make & information they provide.

Now, in a digital networked world those big media companies have to accept that they no longer have as much power. Information can be communicated via a wide range of new channels. Media owners have to work harder to justify clients spend and the premium they can charge is often reduced.

So, I agree wholeheartedly with Paul’s assessment that the B2B media industry as it stands is in some trouble. Huge rafts of costs will have to be taken out to adapt to a world where media brands have less power. And all this is happening at a time when clients are a lot more demanding; the main players still have to support ailing print operations and high levels of debt force a careful watch on covenant levels.

This is where there is a very real danger of some well established & venerable brands going into a death spiral as they are cut to the bone or of whole companies potentially being broken up.

On the other side of the coin Paul points to a lot of web-only startup media companies. He says that while these companies understand digital publishing and search engine optimisation very few of them really understand what it takes to create a world class, multi-platform media brand. They rely on getting a lot of visitors through the door but, as I wrote in my previous post on the newspaper industry, they then cannot necessarily work out how to make money from this transient and promiscuous audience. Again I agree. So, is there a third way?

Paul’s post looks to the future. He gives his thoughts on the rebirth of the industry. He highlights a new era of successful business media companies as the old guard struggles and looks for a reinvention of the model. All good stuff which highlights the current opportunities for entrepreneurs in this space.

Paul asks what others see for the future of our industry. Here are my quick thoughts:

  1. Niche is the word. A lot of the successful media brands of the past 100 years have started off as niche vertical properties which really speak to the daily needs of their audiences. Over time as their industries have expanded these titles have become horizontals and have lost that cutting edge and relevance to their readers.
  2. Media brands have to truly embrace community and offer a focal point for interested parties to gather, communicate, purchase, learn and share. This doesn’t mean adding a forum or social network to the side of an existing brand but rather re-engineering so that news distribution is no longer your central function.
  3. Building tools, widgets, data and workflow products into your offering is key & adds value and relevance to your brand.
  4. Provide a lot of value for free. I believe that the freemium model will really come to the fore but only for media owners who understand a multi-platform and digitally networked world.

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The B2B media industry as we know it is about to collapse

So says Paul Conley – read his post

Update: Paul’s post is obviously disturbing for someone who has spent his whole career in this sector. However, I believe he echos some of my thoughts on the disruption of the business media industry and the opportunities that might create. I’m thinking about it and will aim to give my response here shortly.

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The value of website traffic?

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a SIPA seminar about search (both search engine marketing and using search to create media products). It was really good.

One of the speakers was Julian Sambles, Head of Audience Development at the Telegraph Media Group. Julian gave an overview of what was happening at the Telegraph since the introduction of the audience development team – a team which focused on pushing content out to readers via search engine marketing and interaction with social media. He claimed that since the introduction of this strategy in the summer of 2007 global unique users of the Telegraph’s websites had risen by over 300% in a 14 month period. You may have seen some of the resulting fallout after claims that the Telegraph had overtaken the Guardian in ABC results.

Now, whether the Guardian, Telegraph or Times has the highest online readership is neither here nor there. Sure, it confers some bragging rights for the leader but what commercial advantage does it give? Anyone with experience of search & social media knows techniques for generating traffic – especially if you work for an authority site like the Daily Telegraph. Just take a look at Google Trends information for news, write loads of ‘linkbait’ top 10 list type stories for social media sites or even pay for a wide range of keywords & you can see your traffic soar. But what use are all these extra eyeballs? They mean nothing unless you can monetise this traffic – and hopefully at the sort of premium rates you were able to justify in print.

The reality, however is that CPM rates continue to fall & newspaper groups continue to lay off staff. So where’s the payback? 

I would argue that the newspaper groups need to learn some lessons from their B2B cousins. And quickly. They need to capture information about these extra readers and make sure they embrace a multi-platform media environment where advertising becomes a smaller part of their revenue mix.

Where, for example are the Telegraph’s conferences and training courses, shops, sponsored sections, affiliate programmes, books and paid reports, exhibitions etc. etc.? They may be there somewhere on the site but as a newly attracted reader I can’t see them. 

Traffic and customers are all well and good but until you have some way of making money from them it means nothing.

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Digital editions – trying to solve the wrong business media problem

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Recently I’ve become quite a fan of my ex-colleague, Bill Pollak, the CEO of Incisive Media North America.

Bill has recently ‘got’ social media & is both twittering and blogging profusely.

Along with the rest of the business media sector Bill is clearly looking at the future of his product lines and wrestling with the challenges they face. He is doing this in a very open way and with the aim of both engaging the staff of Incisive Media’s North American operations & reaching out to the industry he serves. I applaud his efforts & hope they permeate the rest of the company.

However, Bill’s post of the 28th November entitled “Capitalizing of Digital Edition Technology” tells me that there’s still a long way to go as the old ALM business faces up to a digital world.

In the post Bill says:

“If advertising declines, I believe publishers will be pushed to find ways to cut the costs of those publications, and that almost certainly means manufacturing and distribution costs. Turning a print publication into a digital one is an obvious solution, and one which we need to all be looking at with an eye toward how we can make the transition work in our favor.”

He then goes on to highlight a recent edition of American Lawyer which managed to embed video from an awards dinner into its digital edition pages & urges his teams to look at ways of selling this to advertisers.

With the greatest respect Bill you’re sending everyone off on a wild goose chase here. Digital editions like those facilitated by Zinio, Olive, NxtBook Media, Texterity etc. are a massive red herring & here’s why:

1) Recipients don’t read them. I could stop this post here. Just think about average open rates for e-mails these days let alone the people who cannot be bothered with re-formating and re-sizing something that wasn’t designed to be read on screen.

2) The digital version of a magazine is called a website – or occasionally a PDF. Concentrate on getting these offerings right rather than tinkering around with something that is designed to look like a magazine but isn’t printed.

3) Engagement with a media property is about much more than having a video pop up from a page. It’s about commenting, sharing, bookmarking, forwarding… how do you do this within a digital edition?

I understand why publishers are tempted to go down the digital edition route – quite apart from the suppliers being all over the trade associations like ABM & PPA.

Let’s see, I can charge the same amount (or even add a premium) to my advertisers and not have to incur any printing and distribution costs, hmmm. What’s not to like?

But the reality is that digital magazines are a gimmick, and not a very practical gimmick at that. They are trying to solve a problem by ignoring the original nature of that problem – the fact that advertisers, in the main, don’t see the value in spending money with your controlled circulation title. The old business case doesn’t make sense any more.

So, my advice to your publishing teams is this. If your magazine is not making money and you’re giving it away for free then cut back the circulation to the people who your advertisers really still want to reach – and make sure those readers are actively engaged with your brand.

If you still cannot make money then don’t pretend to be a print magazine online. Drop the legacy print title and start again.

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How will subscription publishing survive in an online and search engine dominated world?

Jemima Kiss
jemimakiss Clicked on link + page asks for subscription = close page + go to another site. Conclusion: Not good business model. 

 

A while ago I bookmarked this Tweet from Jemima Kiss – one of Guardian’s new technology journalists. Came across it again this morning.

So, what’s the future for subscription publishers?

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