Can B2B magazine brands survive?

lThe impact of digital on national and local papers dominates. The fate of B2B media has been all but ignored. So you can imagine my delight, after a week offline, to discover a real debate.

Well “delight” might be the wrong word here. Paul Conley, a US B2B magazine consultant, has clinically assessed the likely survival of the B2B media sector in the US. It ain’t pretty. Neither a debt-laden, traditional print sector rushing to go online nor more recent, web-only companies can get it right. Advertising revenues decline. Both sides lord it over each other. Rory Brown, a former MD of Incisive Marketing Division, has joined the debate. He argues that B2B companies need to recognise and embrace niches within business sectors. Then use web hosted apps to service readers. I do both an injustice. Read them.  

I recognise the problems. But here’s my countercyclical take on it.

  1. The mood among traditional B2B journalists has swung dramatically. The conversation is no longer “why digital” but rather “shall we use a corporate Twitter address and use DM to communicate. Oh, and let’s feed it through the company Wiki”.
  2. B2B editors are already brilliant networkers so well placed to be what Clay Shirky, among others, would call ambassadors between small world networks. Encourage them and you draw the rest in.
  3. The smaller, monthlies are already such niche titles that their new digital footprints translate smoothly into online communities.
  4. Editors’ specialist knowledge is extremely effective when they go out to comment on stories in the national press or other blogs.
  5. Even the names of the titles, particularly some of the smaller ones, help since they often mirror key search phrases – Service Management, Security Management, Publican, Building.
  6. Web-hosted, social media apps have brought an excitement to editorial teams and provided many of the former prohibitively expensive solutions  for their sites.
  7. A successful B2B titles has not been a stand-alone brand since the mid-1990s. Conferences, awards, exhibitions, roundtables, all extensions to a magazine’s brand sit far more comfortably within digital than endless supplements.
  8. Our exhibitions are now spawning high quality conferences. They might not look like journalism but by God they feel like it when you are live blogging them.
  9. Content will remain a priority but digital allows former print titles to withdraw from some areas – why compete on data when others do it better?
  10. Digital revenues might be 5-10 per cent on average. But that figure will rise quickly.
  11. Clients know they must move their marketing online. They, like the media, are just struggling with the cultural changes necessary.
  12. B2B sales teams have a relationship with clients that allows them to mentor them as they learn about digital together.
  13. Sales teams are absolutely up for it.
  14. Not all B2B companies are debt-laden. United Business Media (my company) has money in the bank following sales of the Express newspapers and shares in C4 and C5 TV channels over the last decade.
  15. And finally, the return of humour. Adam Tinworth, RBI’s blog maestro on the current downturn: “I’ve just registered fromb2btob&b in preparation for the implosion of the industry and my inevitable move from B2B to running a B&B in Devon…”

What do you think. Can you add to this list?

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About John Welsh

John Welsh has spent his entire working life in business-to-business media, first traditional publishing, having edited three magazines over 14 years, and, second, exhibitions since 2007. He started this blog on 22 June 2008 and ended it on 18 May 2010.
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2 Responses to Can B2B magazine brands survive?

  1. Can b2b magazine brands survive?

    In a word: no. In a few more words: not in their current format.

    We increasingly live in a world of 24/7 news and while I do not want to be chained to my desk seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, it seems pretty obvious that the monthly or even weekly issue of news just will not fly any longer.

    It won’t be too long before all conventional printed business magazines provide news content electronically – either in a dedicated website or via journalist’s blogs – and the magazines will provide features worth spending a cup of coffee with, and a brief two page summary of news items.

    Eventually the PDF versions of the magazine features will replace commercially printed magazines, but that will probably take a little longer.

    Paperback books, the sort you buy and discard rather than reference books, will disappear too I suspect. Personally, I went over to eBooks some time ago and haven’t bought a paperback for at least two years, perhaps longer.

    There is an exciting future ahead of us!

    Grahame Morrison
    Follow me online at: http://friendfeed.com/gjm

  2. Pingback: One Man and His Blog

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