B2B magazines are going online at such a pace, it is tempting to ask what sort of future printed weekly titles have in a 21st century publishing strategy.
This week’s announcement from Centaur Media that New Media Age Loading... and Design Week Loading... are to ditch their printed weekly magazines (as well as some staff) as part of a restructure, is only the latest in a long line of print-to-digital-only B2B brands (here’s how NMA covered the news and paidContent has the memo from CEO Geoff Wilmot).
Centaur is now three divisions – Business Publishing, Business Informa Loading... tion and Exhibitions. That makes sense, especially the efforts to build up high-level subscription data businesses, which will be non-too-small task of Simon Middelboe, who joins from Informa’s ancient shipping paper Lloyd’s List.
I haven’t seen the figures but I understand that NMA’s revenue and traffic figures were not bad enough – in the eyes of some staffers – to justify closing the mag. The title suffered internally from comparison to the much larger Marketing Week Loading... , which survives intact. Restructuring was expected but this week’s announcement went far beyond what most were anticipating.
But what is the big picture in B2B’s on-going transition away from print? Are industry leaders still acting too late in reacting to the digital tsunami that’s enveloping them?
Problem of strategy, not talent
Mike Butcher Loading... is a former editor of NMA from 1998-2000, having joined in 1996, and is now editor of Techcrunch Europe, the leading technology startup news site. Butcher emerged as an influential blogger and digital journalist and now runs an online-only vertically-focused brand.
“I don’t think it’s anything down to what the actual team at NMA did, but more a problem with how the overall strategy was conceived at the top layer of Centaur,” he tells TheMediaBriefing.
Butcher describes a time in 1996 when the magazine’s site was run from one of four 48k modems available in the Centaur building. Management questioned why reporters should have emails below their bylines. “I had wanted to give reporters video cameras. There just wasn’t the tech support or the bandwidth. But imagine if we’d done it then? We might have ended up with a video business,” he says.
He continues: “In truth, Centaur followed a time-honoured path of creating a brand, sticking to it and wrapping a conference and awards around it – despite growing evidence that social media would kill NMA’s classifieds business (Er, LinkedIn Loading... anyone?).
“Meanwhile the whole operation was still geared largely to a weekly print cycle even while when people were getting their news via blogs (and now Twitter Loading... ) within minutes of it happening.”
That will ring true for many publishers – though Butcher admits that to change a culture within an organisation and a newsroom is not easy. He adds that for NMA “all is not lost for print. They could almost certainly still create bespoke packages.”
Was the magazine the unique selling point?
One of the more enjoyable comment threads on B2B and paid content in recent times was, appropriately, on paidContent:UK and featured NMA publisher Andy Oakes (who despite being highly regarded was made redundant in the Centaur restructuring this week) and Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein. On a story about how NMA was putting more of its content behind a paywall, Friedlein commented: “I don’t rate their chances if they think news, however 'big-hitting', will sell.”
I caught up with Friedlein – who took to Twitter to voice doubts over the move - to get his take on the paywall strategy two years on. “The reality is they have not made much money from the magazine in years and what they did make was from recruitment advertising,” he says. “They made money on the events, particularly the awards. But the only business model that makes sense for B2B is one of diversified revenue streams.”
Friedlein argues that whereas Econsultancy uses content to drive sales of paid-for products such as reports and training, Centaur hiding its content from view to non-subscribers cut off the brand’s marketing potential, leaving a “dwindling” brand.
“We have lots of free content on our site that doesn’t make us any money,” he says. “News can be a very useful loss leader and drive market share and reach but the notion that people will pay to access old news stories is nonsense. Just making it mobile friendly or putting it in an app is not going to make people pay for it.”
But, interestingly for a digital publisher, Friedlein also argues that NMA’s printed product made the brand stand out: “The thing that was unique about NMA was print – that was the only difference they did have.”
An irreversible trend?
In a wider context, it’s important to note this is not an isolated event:
– Computer Weekly Loading... , sold by Reed Business Information Loading... in March to TechTarget Loading... and now a digital-only brand. My take on that is here and incidentally CW editor Bryan Glick wrote a very interesting piece for us on these issues late last year, before the sale.
– Accountancy Age, one of Incisive Media Loading... ’s flagship brands, ditched its print edition in April. “The evidence is that our readers are increasingly seeking their news, analysis and features online and want it delivered to their inboxes,” the publisher said.
At the same time Emap is considering turning a whole raft its weekly titles into either monthlies or online-only brands, according to this Telegraph.co.uk article.
Please point any other print-to-online changes I’ve missed in the comments below. Does the industry still have to come to terms with the realities of print and digital publishing?
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