B2B mags plugging in to generation net

If you want a good indication of how B2B magazine publishing is changing, you need only visit the in-house studios and theatre at VNU's Soho offices.

Built this year for a six-figure sum, the four studios and a space for staging events will be used to host internetdelivered audio and video content such as vodcasts, podcasts, news broadcasts, seminars, conference reports and video product reviews.

It is, says VNU deputy managing director John Barnes, the "unleashing of a total media" strategy by the Netherlands-based publisher. The set-up is impressive — there's a live event room, a studio for product reviews, a studio for white boarding (for use in software reviews) and a fourth seminar room.

The company has made all its pilots and will be publishing an autumn schedule over the next few weeks, once they have been taken out to advertisers.

And here is the crux of the matter for all digital exploration — how can you make money from new adventures in technology?

Barnes has confidence in VNU's strategy because the company is following examples that have worked in the US — which publishers over here agree is about six months to a year ahead in digital strategies.

Plus, what Barnes calls "tier one" advertisers, such as IBM and Microsoft, are more interested in experimenting with multimedia.

"We have a strong track record of mixing multimedia into our existing products," says Barnes, "so we carried IBM television advertising on our ebooks and carried Microsoft advertising on our website — this is just a logical extension of that."

Of advantage to B2B publishers such as VNU are their controlled circulation products, which Barnes says means "you know exactly who the readers are", and new multimedia strategies can be used to tempt advertisers, because they know exactly who they are getting through to.

The best example is the web seminar, a "high ticket item" at £35,000, which is firmly established as a revenue stream for the company. "The web seminars are definitely not experimental," says Barnes "we're on our 30th web seminar now and we know they make money — and year on year they're growing."

Confidence isn't in short supply at Incisive Media, which has gone in 10 years from a one-title start-up in Soho to a public company employing 550 people in four countries. That success is primarily attributed to being pioneers of multi-platform publishing, or what CEO Tim Weller calls being "platform agnostic".

His first title, Insurance Week, launched its website in 1995 and today the company rolls out content through e-seminars, email news alerts, podcasts, blogging, radio and databases.

Weller says: "We have been very early adopters of the internet and it's very much core to our strategy."

He adds: "Online is just another channel from which we can deliver content. It's another channel where we connect the buyer to the seller, a range of different business models across markets we serve. The challenge is to take best practice from one to another."

Incisive follows different strategies for different markets. Search engine and online marketing products such as searchenginewatch.com and clickZ.com are based on networking opportunities, littered with editors' blogs, community forums and daily newsletters pushed out to subscribers. In their financial division, it can sell private equity database, updated in real time that clients can cross-reference and cross match for a yearly £15,000 subscription.

This kind of data that B2B titles specialise in is proving invaluable — it's just a question of how publishers choose to use it. Offline revenues can be cannibalised by online. Publishers are having to innovate, experiment and discover just what they can sell and what's merely a service or "value add-on" to their readers and advertisers.

It's this stage of digital evolution that Information Age, the monthly IT-in-business magazine, finds itself in at present, as it launches a series of "webinars", still in an experimental phase.

The title, published by Infoconomy, has teamed up with a firm called In Situ Productions, which provides the technology, so the event can go live from the company boardroom on a monthly basis, without the need for a purpose-built studio.

Andy Lawrence, joint MD and editorial director of Infoconomy, says that the point of the exercise is about broadening the brand. "We are a controlled circulation product, but in spite of that there is quite a tough battle to get people to want the magazine. This is a very competitive market that we're in — there are three big monthlies and at least two or three big weeklies.

"So even to get people to say ‘I want magazine A over magazine B' is quite hard, even though they're free. So we see this as a value-add to the reader. And also to the advertiser — we do roll-over logos so they get a little bit of extra branding."

For Information Age, the ideal situation would be to get someone to sponsor the webinars over six months or a year, but at least by partnering with In Situ the risk is shared. "I'm sure we will find it difficult,"

Lawrence says, "I'm not pretending it's easy. I've been to a number of conferences on podcasts and webcasts, and there's no doubt that people are struggling to make money on all of these areas, with the possible exception of webinars, which tend to be quite heavily sponsored."

Robert Brighouse, MD of Reed Business Information, which has its own TV studio, says the company's current digital strategies have been in place for two years, with revenue gleaned through webzines, recruitment sites, search and subscription information and data services.

The Surrey-based publisher aggregated its network of 23 UK websites, including NewScientist.com and ComputerWeekly.com, to launch RBI Digital Media last year.

Brighouse suggests that it is advertisers, not readers, that B2B publishers need to convince. He says that "readers have been quicker to pick them up than advertisers, who, by and large, have been slower to appreciate the marketing opportunities that they present".

Ultimately the task is to take the brand further. A title such as Information Age does podcasts, blogs, sponsored reader lunches and the usual website banners and sponsorship.

Although he questions whether some of this new media, especially blogs, will become revenue streams, Lawrence says "the modern publisher needs to have multiple revenue streams and be multichannel".

At CMPi, this means more of everything and increasingly, says digital development director Ian Eckert, more face-to-face interaction with its publications' audiences.

CMPi has always been about bringing buyers and sellers together, says Eckert, now there are just more platforms to do this on. Digital is a challenge, but one that opens up more revenue streams.

Like its competitors, CMPi is investing heavily in recruitment websites (there's a number of launches in its construction portfolio in the pipeline) and in turning its content into a service via new technologies.

In its medical brands, the company is at the beta stage with Search Medica, a system that allows GPs to search across the web for clinical and patient information.

Simple adjustments of old strategies can reap new reward — at Pulse, they have a cut-out-and-keep wallchart of worldwide vaccines that doctors could stick on their surgery wall.

Now it's available as a more sophisticated desktop item, which can be customised to suit the patient's needs. "Suddenly," says Eckert, "we're taking something that's static and making it dynamic."

The Pulse vaccines service can be offered to other sites in the B2B business networks and, because the information has relevance beyond simply GPs, it can be syndicated to online travel services or airlines who could offer it to travellers as a extra service when they book flights, meaning more revenue for the original publisher. "It's the syndication side to Web 2.0," adds Eckert, "taking content and turning it into a service."

As in consumer publications, where there's a sense of a new drive towards digital platforms, there's a similar push in B2B. Barnes says consumer titles have massive audiences that B2B publications just don't reach — so revenue streams such as ringtones and mobile phone marketing don't add up in a smaller pool.

But he adds: "B2B is further ahead in actually using traditional business and mixing it with new business to provide more targeting, to measure return-oninvestment for advertisers."

Incisive's Weller says what's changed in the past four to five years is that readers' access to new media has rapidly increased — B2B publishers are in no way struggling to keep up.

He says: "The B2B community are pretty much down the line in what their business model should be, and our community has been making money online for some years."

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