Friday, May 30, 2008

What does a publisher actually do anyway?

The old EMAP B2B business, now co owned by Apax and GMG is feeling the effects of a new broom sweeping clean. CEO Gilbertson has sacked 8 publishers according to this story on Brand Republic.

That saves a useful £1m or so and clears out a good chunk of the layer of management that Gilbertson might have thought a barrier to change. Theres more to come I'll bet.

RBI Late on Sale

The Times reported yesterday that the Information Memorandum on RBI has not been published, despite expectations that it would be available in Mid May. I am led to believe that internal expectations amongst the staff are that a deal would be done by August. This is highly unlikely with delays already creeoing in. The one thing we all know about sale processes is that they always take longer than you think - and this will be no exception.

Also finally news that Reed has sold its defence assets to Clarion for an unspecified sum - but presmably the long delay has been a tortuous price chipping negotiation.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Circulations Down, Readers down, Ads Down, Down Down, Deeper and Down.

I don't want to go on about this like some whinging git, but this meltdown shouldn't come as any surprise. Take a look at the ABC figures for some of the biggest business media brands and how they have changed over time. Here are just a few comaprisons of some weeklies which are largely or entirely dependent on paid sale.

Caterer and Hotelkeeper had a circ of 37437 in 1996. Today just 18807. The Grocer had a circ of 47030 in 1996. Today just 30790. Music Week, 12400 in 1996, just 7960 today. Farmers Weekly sold 96535 copies a week in 1996. Today just 70315. And finally, Campaign, the advertisers bible. In 1996 circ of 16280 and today just 10112.

Whatever the reason, business mags are losing readers and have been for more than ten years. Lets wake up and smell the coffee. We can't live with the status quo any longer.

They Think Its All Over - It Isn't Yet!

Peter Kirwan has noticed that the PPA only ever spouts good news about the b2b industry. You will remember that we ranted about this when they produced their guff research a month or so back. Actually, I am not as despondent about the future as some readers of this blog might be led to believe - I am simply despondent about the failure of most business media execs to honestly appraise the situation and take some meaningful action.

In a cyclical downturn business publishers take a number of actions. They include making redundancies, stopping discretionary spend on marketing and training, squeezing bonuses, reducing controlled circulations, cutting editorial pagination, reducing paper weights, conducting a procurement review and getting cautious about deveopment spend. This always works providing you believe that its a cycle - that what goes around comes a round. I used to be cheerful in a recession, safe in the knowledge that after the bust comes the boom - but not this time.

Business magazines have been declining during the recent boom (read back the last two years of posts on this blog if you don't believe me) and that decline is now accelerating. Does this mean that business decision makers no longer need business information? No.
Does this mean that suppliers of business services no longer need to spend money marketing to their customers? No.

So this is an opportunity to think about the needs of customers and readers and service them with some new and innovative approaches. Here are some questions business publishers might like to answer in getting to a conclusion about what to do (I think I know the answers but I am not sure I should tell you!)

1) What do you have to do to a magazine to make a business reader pick it up in a web world?

2) What tools and data and information can I provide that will become part of the workflow of readers/users.

3) What are my advertisers spending their marketing bucks on, how do they know it works and how can I provide a more efferctive means of influencing their customers?

4) What would my strategic plan look like if I pursued my customers needs rather than the financial health of my magazine?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Drowning in Content

Thought for the day. I found this on my desk and I can't remember where I sourced it from so apologies to its original author, but this might make an interesting start point for the discussion about b2b information;

"As I struggle to stay afloat in an infinitely growing sea of information, one thing has become clear: we don't need more content. We need our content, the content that will add the most value to our experience. On a good day I've got roughly two hours to read the millions of blogs that are begging to deliver me content.

If you don't make it about me I'm going to drown."

Mixing it up a bit, business media companies! Are you you waving or drowning?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So We Said Thank You for the Music Week

The definitive trade mag for the music industry, Music Week, is firing journalists both online and offline and, according to Press Gazette, running without a news desk - which is tough for a news weekly! The title is loss making. How the mighty has fallen.

In the late nineties Music Week spawned early online consumer music web property dotmusic. It couldn't find an economic model, refusing to play dirty by allowing downloads, and was sold by United Business Media for chips. A missed opportunity for sure.

Having tried unsuccessfuly to sell the trade mag a couple of years ago, CMPi now finds itself with no profit in the magazine and no online business either.

Is this the future for business magazines, revenue collapse, cut costs, run out of profit, fire the remaining journos and then close the magazine. Grim.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Don't Panic Mr Mainwaring

Remember Pravte Frazer in Dads Army? This website uses his catch phrase "dont' panic" as a headline on the chronicling of the demise of business magazines in the UK.

He spotted something I missed - the closure of William Reeds Bake and Take magazine or rather its merger with British Baker.

All the news is the b2b sector is in one of three catgeories; magazine closures, redundancies, up for sale. Until the industry finds a way to change this agenda to innovation, launch and renewal I would be very cautious about predicting a happy future.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Are B2B websites any good?

Its a few weeks old, but in this post the old gloom monger/teller of harsh truths of B2B, Paul Conley, reports on the accelerating crisis in the US as more and more b2b companies lay off staff. He points out that senior management are now making mad demands for faster growth from online but that most b2b websites are not very good.

In the UK the websites are worse. Shall we start a shortlist of some of the worst and assess some of them? There could be some learning there. If you know of something truly awful either leave a comment or email me and we'll have a bit of a crawl over it and find out why its so bad.

Have a good weekend and lets hope we are all still here on Monday. ;-)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Euromoney in the Money

Euromoney, publisher of Metal Bulletin is doing rather well. It has reduced its dependence on advertising, stoked up its events business and driven some rather good revenue and record profits.

It is only those b2b houses with strong events in their portfolio that seem to be bullish in the current environment. Of course events have a longer recession lag than publishing assets. Exhibitions run it the next thre to six months will be based on revenue contracted as much as a year ago. If the downturn continues, these events driven models are lilekly to suffer too - but not until next year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

RBI Blogger Splogged

Remember that brave soul from RBI who was blogging about the sale of his business. It appears that he has been closed down. As a writer on the subject he is of course conflicted, and sometimes mistaken, but is it wise to stamp out his not unitelligent witterings? What message does that send to the troops? He was honourable enough to post openly under his own name (unlike yours truly ;-)) and may have been in breach of his employment contract but if someone chose to do the same thing anonymously what could Reed do?

When a business is up for sale, good comms is essential. Lets hope the RBI management folk fill the gap well and the Ops manager hasn't blotted his copy book.

Memo to RBI - I am not an employee so you can leave me alone.

Easy Money for Private Equity in Business Media

The Times has been reporting that private equity is circling Informa. As a result the share price jumped. The speculation is that Informa could be merged with UBM. No doubt somone in hedge funds made some money today but an interesting trend is developing. Emap Business is now in private equity hands, so is TES, so is Incisive, so will be Reed Business Information. Now we are told that the same could happen for UBM and Informa. What is it that private equity investors see in business media companies that the City doesn't in the same companies on the public market?

Two theories. Either the PEs are mad or they see lumbering companies with heavy management costs and too little innovation. Running a PE backed company is a very focussed job. The CEO and the management know they have to drive shareholder value in a predicatable time period (3 to 7 years). In a public company most executives are working to not be fired, not take too many risks, not make a mistake, never see the consequences of their mistakes. PE is oft criticised for their slash and burn approach, but there are few media PE deals that have gone horribly wrong in business media.

Get the right management (not necesarily the incumbent) and there is still value to be extracted. Incumbent management take note, as the man from Hanley Wood said, you risk as being, perceived, perhaps rightly, as not competent to take our industry forward.

EMAP in Four Way Split

EMAP Business, under new owners, GMG and APAX have begun their remodelling by re organising into four divisions. They all have posh names, but they mean Magazines, Exhibitions, Conferences and Data.

What about web? I know they have some cool web data properties in fashion, but does this mean that all the mag websites are in data, or that the magazines division is also running web? Either way, outside of the data driven businesses its hard see where the focus on web publishing is.

The Guardian quotes CEO Gilbertson as saying,

"These changes are designed to aggregate our strengths so we are the best at what we do in every format. Each division will develop its own digital growth strategy, and we will invest in the technology and training to support that," said Gilbertson.

Getting magazine publishers to develop their own web strategy is like asking a turkey to pluck its own feathers and then gut itself. Its very hard to do, hurts quite a lot and you keep thinking that a pile of feathers, your innards all over the floor and a bald body is not very attractive. Apologies for the daft analogy - but you know what I mean.

Monday, May 12, 2008

IDG makes Money from the Web Shock!

This recent article in the New York Times explores how tech publisher IDG has seized the online opportunity. A cynic mught say that this came out of adversity, but hey lets not be picky. The once great InfoWorld was closed down as a print publication a year or more ago. Its online child now turnsover $1.6m /month in ad revenue and has a 37% margin. The magazine used to lose money on less revenue/month.

Pat McGovern (pictured) is one of the oldest print publishers on the planet - and one of the most successful, so interesting to see how even the most conservative of media execs can get it right.

These are the things it seems to me that IDG got right;

1) They saw the web property as an opporutnity not a threat and resourced it accordingly.

2) They understood that content written for the web is different from content written for the magazine.

3) They created some really useful "furniture" based around top tips to solve problems - a nod towards workflow integration.

4) They made everyone write for the web and progressively moved resources from mag to web as the mag revenues declined.

5) They adopted what they called a "web first" approach which means in terms, do the right thing for the web product and to hell with the consequences and then, as they say in the article,

"the only thing left to decide was the death date for the print edition"

Now I know this is the tech market and I know that the US market is more advanced than the UK in some respects, but isn't there just a little about this that pricks your conscience to do something differently today?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

To Be Sold or Not to Be Sold. In B2B that is the Question

Peter Kirwan thinks Bernard Gray was beeing "cheeky" in postulating that RBI might not get sold. Grays business, TES, is backed by Charterhouse, one of the supposed bidders and therefore Gray is simply talking down the price in the interests of his owners he argues.

Maybe. The piece goes on to expose the opportunities for a buyer which are interesting. He rightly argues that there is plenty of cost to take out. Certainly most PE owners would consider that RBI has too much management rather than too little. But firing the COO would cost at least half a million alone!

The article also points out that the absence of trade shows creates an opportunity for a new owner to launch some. I think this is less compelling. Firstly the trade show market is very crowded and it is not easy to find new niches of any scale. Secondly although Reed Elsevier owns Reed Exhibitions this has ever prevented RBI from lanuching and running shows and conferences. It fact it does run some. It owns Salon International and SED for example.

In many of its core b2b markets REC owns the leading show- Hotelympia in the catering sector for example) so I would presume that Reed would require some kind of restrictive covenant on competing from a new owner of RBI.

As we have said before the problem for Reed is that the magazine business is unattractive and the liabilities on employment contracts and pensions are onerous. Gray may or may not be being disingenous, but he is right to say a deal is by no means certain.

Journalists Paid for Porn?

Apparently RBI has considered whether to pay journalists for the number of page views they generate. I think thats a great idea. They'll all start posting porn and pictures of Paris Hilton all over their b2b websites. That should brighten them up a bit.

Innovation Shines Through at PPA Awards (irony)

I don't think I have had a more dispiriting evening in a long time. Not that the company was bad or the food awful but watching the PPA awards was a pretty indigestible feast of complacency. Where was the innovation? Where was the understanding that the magazine publishing model has got to change?

B2B winners were Legal Week.TES,Building Services Journal, Property Week, New Civil Engineer, Building, Farmers Guardian, Retail Week. Fine mags all, but what's new? This could have been the list of winners from any PPA awards bash of the last 20 years.

The judges salutation for the weekly business magazine of the year says, "there has been a nine per cent increase in requested readers..." Oh puhlease.

Good that half the salutation was devoted to the online companion website but seriously folks, if the magazine of the year wins this gong in part because its requested readers tally went up a notch there is a lot to do in the innovation departments of business media companies.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Business Publishers Admit Its Getting Tough

Business publishers are normally very cautious about talking themselves into a recession so it is interesting to hear the CEOs at the PPA conference acknowledging that things are getting tough. Tim Weller says we have to get our heads out of the sand -it's going to be tough he says. William Reeds Charles Reed is bleating that online recruitment is tough too, which is surprising given their strength in that sector. CMP complained that the building sector was tough and so is recruitment.

David Gilbertson says magazines aren't dead. Just resting perhaps. Magazines may not be dead, but they are not growth businesses and will not drive shareholder value growth says I.

So, in a an uncharacteristic agreement with Weller, there is still time to get the heads out of the sand - but not much. Every day of dithering means that advertisers are losing the habit of doing business with business media houses. Recruitment revenues are being stolen by the job boards and the recruitment and selection agencies.

So, a question for Charles Reed - if recuitment is falling in print, and you are struggling to make it work in online - what are you going to do?

It's too late to mind the shop and hope the customers will come back, we need a new innovative approach to business media. Without it, when Bernard Gray of TES says that the elephant in the room is the sale of RBI, we will soon be saying that the dinosaur on the plain is all the old behemoths of business media.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Future of B2B Media

This survey reports on the US b2b sector. It's not without optimism with a surprising number of CEOs prediciting revenue increases this year. Print is declining as a proportion of total revenue, events and online are up. However one CEO says,

"“We’ve seen slow customer acceptance of Internet marketing/advertising,”

This is a key issue for b2b online players. Building traffic is relatively straight forward but in most b2b sectors advertisers are lagging behind their customers in recognising the importance of the web. Coached over many years to believe in the controlled ciruclation model, advertisers are struggling to understand why they should feel confident that their customers are users of industry web sites. Audience metrics are too simplistic often being little more than a page impression count. Here in the UK our websites are often attracting audiences from around the world and from many parts of the value chain. Advertisers are geared up to promote to the UK buyer in one part of the value chain. When an advertiser books a campaign on a b2b website how does he know how much of the audience is relevant. In the most advanced markets (prinicpally IT) advertisers and agencies are beginning to demand that they only pay for UK IP addresses. They are also moving from a CPM model to a CTR model. Both issues create challenges for publishers. The headline audience stats are overstating the reach into the UK decision making community and CTR is low and in some sectors falling.

The b2b industry has always been about validated lead generation rather than simple audience numbers (remember reader enquiry cards?) but we have not yet created a commonly understood model for how to do this in online.

There are a number of things that must be done;

1) Invest in research that valildates the quality of the online audience.
2) Create new innovative and effective online inventory that converts the audience into effective sales leads for advertisers
3) Invent ways to recapture the ability for advertisers to extract brand development benefits from their advertising rather than just clicks.
4) Get a better understanding of how users make decisions and create tools that aid the decsion making process as well as simply providing news and information.

One of the interesting solutions to this problem is vertical search - a subject around which there is a lot of heat and not a lot of light. Convera are offering a method for publishers to quickly build vertical search solutions and have a number of UK clients incluing CMP and Centaur. Fast, the Microsoft owned solution for enterprise search has some installations in vertical search, most notably Zibb owned by Reed, and Nexus has a deal with Autonomy on a product called Foundography. It's early days for all these solutions but they could be the beginning of a new model which we will follow with interest