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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Building tools, widgets, data and workflow products into your offering is key & adds value and relevance to your brand.
- 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.